The African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of all 55 countries on the Continent of Africa, extending slightly into geographical Asia via the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, except for territories of European countries located in Africa. It was established on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and launched on 9 July 2002 in South Africa, with the aim of replacing the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, with 32 signatory governments.
To encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To promote peace, security, and stability on the continent. To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance. To promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.
To establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations. To promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies. To promote co-operation in all fields of human activity to raise the living standards of African peoples. To coordinate and harmonize the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union.
To advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology. To work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent.The African Union is made up of both political and administrative bodies. The highest decision-making organ is the Assembly of the African Union, made up of all the heads of state or government of member states of the AU.
The Assembly is chaired by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda. The AU also has a representative body, the Pan African Parliament, which consists of 265 members elected by the national legislatures of the AU member states. Its president is Roger Nkodo Dang. Other political institutions of the AU include the Executive Council, made up of foreign ministers, which prepares decisions for the Assembly; the Permanent Representatives Committee, made up of the ambassadors to Addis Ababa of AU member states; and the Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), a civil society consultative body.
The AU Commission, the secretariat to the political structures, is chaired by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa. On 15 July 2012, Ms. Dlamini-Zuma won a tightly contested vote to become the first female head of the African Union Commission, replacing Jean Ping of Gabon. Other AU structures are hosted by different member states: the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is based in Banjul, the Gambia; and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and APRM Secretariats and the Pan-African Parliament are in Midrand, South Africa.
The AU covers the entire continent except for several territories held by Spain (Canary Islands, Plazas de soberanía), France (Mayotte, Réunion, Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean), Portugal (Madeira, Savage Islands) and the United Kingdom (Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha). The AU's first military intervention in a member state was the May 2003 deployment of a peacekeeping force of soldiers from South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique to Burundi to oversee the implementation of the various agreements. AU troops were also deployed in Sudan for peacekeeping during Darfur conflict, before the mission was handed over to the United Nations on 1 January 2008 UNAMID. The AU has also sent a peacekeeping mission to Somalia, of which the peacekeeping troops are from Uganda and Burundi.
The AU has adopted a number of important new documents establishing norms at continental level, to supplement those already in force when it was created. These include the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and its associated Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.
The AU declared 2006 the Year of African Languages. 2006 also marked Ghana's 55th anniversary since it founded the Bureau of Ghana Languages originally known as Gold Coast Vernacular Literature Bureau.
During the same period, the initiative for the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), was also established. The African Union was launched in Durban on 9 July 2002, by its first chairperson, South African Thabo Mbeki, at the first session of the Assembly of the African Union. The second session of the Assembly was in Maputo in 2003, and the third session in Addis Ababa on 6 July 2004. Since 2010, the African Union eyes the establishment of a joint African space agency.
Barack Obama was the first ever sitting United States president to speak in front of the African Union in Addis Ababa, on 29 July 2015. With his speech, he encouraged the world to increase economic ties via investments and trade with the continent, and lauded the progresses made in education, infrastructure and economy. But he also criticized lacks of democracy and leaders who refuse to step down, discrimination against minorities (LGBT people, religious groups and ethnicities) and corruption. He suggested an intensified democratization and free trade, to significantly increase living quality for Africans.