The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established on this date in 1963. Formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 32 signatory governments, one of the main heads for OAU’s establishment was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
Some of the key aims of the OAU were to encourage political and economic integration among member states and to eradicate colonialism and Neo-colonialism from the African continent. The organization was widely derided as a bureaucratic “talking shop” with little power. It struggled to enforce its decisions, and its lack of armed force made intervention exceedingly difficult. Civil wars in Nigeria and Angola continued unabated for years, and the OAU could do nothing to stop them. The policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states also limited the effectiveness of the OAU. Thus, when human rights were violated, as in Uganda under Idi Amin in the 1970s, the OAU was powerless to stop them.
The Organization was praised by Ghanaian former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for bringing Africans together. Nevertheless, in its decades of existence, critics argue that the OAU did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it as a “Dictators’ Club” or “Dictator’s Trade Union”. The OAU was, however, successful as many of its members were members of the UN, too, and they stood together within the latter organization to safeguard African interests amid lingering colonialism. Its pursuit of African unity, therefore, was in some ways successful.
Total unity was difficult to achieve, however, as the OAU was largely divided. The former French colonies, still dependent on France, had formed the Monrovia Group, and there was a further split between those that supported the United States and those that supported the USSR in the Cold War of ideologies. The pro-Socialist faction was led by Ghana, while the Ivory Coast led the pro-capitalists. Because of these divisions, it was difficult for the OAU to take action against states involved in internal conflicts because it could rarely reach an agreement on what was to be done.
The OAU did play a pivotal role in eradicating colonialism and white minority rule in Africa. It gave weapons, training, and military bases to rebel groups fighting white minority and colonial rule. The UN was convinced by the OAU to expel South Africa from bodies such as the World Health Organization. The OAU also worked with the UN to ease refugee problems. It set up the African Development Bank for economic projects intended to make Africa financially stronger.
Although all African countries eventually won their independence, it remained difficult for them to become totally independent of their former colonizers. There was often continued reliance on the former colonial powers for economic aid, which often came with strings attached: loans had to be paid back at high-interest rates, and goods had to be sold to the aiders at low rates.
The USA and USSR intervened in post-colonial Africa in pursuit of their own objectives. Help was sometimes provided in the form of technology and aid-workers. Despite the fight to keep “Westerners” (colonialists) out of African affairs, the OAU failed to achieve to meet goals set up to advocate African affairs. The Organization still heavily depended on Western help (military and economic) to intervene in African affairs, despite African leaders’ displeasure at dealing with the international community, especially Western countries. It was disbanded on July 9, 2002, by its last chairman, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and replaced by the African Union (AU).