African Union, regional groupings, and organisations of Africa

Africa is a vast continent of 55 countries, and covers 20% of the earth’s land area. It is the second largest and the second most populous continent, first being Asia. Africa has been the hotspot of colonialism, the legacies of which still mar the continent. Let us have a look at African organisations and associated agreements of trade and cooperation.

African Union

The African Union (AU) is a continental union of all 55 countries on the African continent. It was established in 2002, as the successor to the Organisation of African Unity. It does not include territories held by foreign sovereigns: Spain (Canary islands, etc), France (Reunion, Scattered Islands in Indian Ocean, etc), Portugal and the UK.

Political centres:

  • Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, is the administrative capital of the African Union by virtue of being the seat of the secretariat of AU – African Union Commission.
  • Johannesburg, the largest city of South Africa, is the political capital of the African Union by virtue of being the seat of the Pan-African Parliament.

Organisations of the African Union:

  • Assembly of the African Union is the highest decision making organ made up of all the heads of state/government of member states. Decisions are taken by 2/3 majority or preferably by consensus.
  • Pan-African Parliament is the highest legislative body of the AU.
  • African Union Commission – secretariat – administrative organ.
  • Court of Justice of the African Union – for resolution of disputes over interpretation of AU treaties.
  • Councils and Committees-
    • Executive Council
    • Peace and Security Council
    • Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC)
  • African Central Bank – yet to be established. Eventually, the AU aims to have a single currency (the Afro).

Western Sahara Dispute

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of Africa, partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially occupied by neighbouring Morocco. In 1984, Morocco withdrew from the Organisation of African Unity, and didn’t join the African Union until 2017, due to its contention over inclusion of Western Sahara (SADR) in the organisation.

African Union vs. European Union

Both African Union and European Union are permanent observers at the United Nations General Assembly. African Union is a young organisation, and not as integrated as the European Union. While European Union provides for free movement of goods and services, and people (in Schengen Area), the African Union, at present, provides neither a unified common market nor free movement of people. There is no common currency in Africa like the Euro in EU. The differences in the forms of government, autocracies and democracies, huge disparities in socio-economic status of people, along with baggage of historical rivalries and mistrust are hindrances to substantiation of any real power in the hands of the African Union.

Social Integration: African Union aims to unify the continent with a visa-free travel system similar to that of the Schengen Area of the European Union. It is working on its project of common continent wide passports for African people; progress is being made but it may take years to fructify.


The Abuja Treaty envisages economic integration by establishing a pan-Africa economic and monetary union with a central bank, a single market, and a common currency – Afro. It seeks to create a African Economic Community in phases by 2034.

Regional Groupings of Africa

SACU – Southern African Customs Union

The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is a customs union among five countries of Southern Africa: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Its headquarters are in the Namibian capital, Windhoek. It was established in 1910.

EAC – East African Community

The East African Community (EAC) is an intergovernmental organisation and a potential precursor to the establishment of the East African Federation, a proposed single sovereign state.

Six members – Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi.

SADC – South African Development Community

The South African Development Community (SADC) is an intergovernmental organisation of 16 countries that promotes socio-economic and political cooperation between them. Countries shown in dark green are members of both SADC and the SACU.

COMESA – Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is a free trade area, and one of the pillars of the African Economic Community.

G5 Sahel

G5 Sahel is an institutional framework for regional cooperation in development policies and security matters in the French speaking countries of West Africa. It has 5 members: Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad. It was formed in 2014 in Nouakchott, Mauritania. French is its official language.

AfCFTA – African Continental Free Trade Area

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a planned free trade area, outlined in the AfCFTA Agreement of 2018, supported by the African Union. The agreement was signed by 44 countries in March 2018, in Kigali, Rwanda. Countries shown in dark green have ratified the agreement, while countries shown in light green have signed the agreement by July 2018 and are yet to ratify.

Related Information:

Agenda 2063: A strategic framework of the African Union for the socio-economic transformation of the continent by 2063.

The New partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) – an economic development plan of the African Union.

African Free Trade Zone is a free trade zone of 26 member states comprising members of EAC, SADC, and COMESA.

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