Africa has had a high number of armed conflicts than other continents. Africa has a history of regional cooperation and integration initiatives and programmes. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, on the signature of the OAU Charter by representatives of 32 governments. Among others, the OAU aimed to promote the unity and solidarity of African States; and defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. The African Union (AU) replaced the former OAU in May 2001 after the Constitutive Act was launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa. The main difference between the OAU and the AU is that while the OAU was seen as a union of leaders of Africa, the AU is conceived as a union of African peoples. This is evidenced in the AU’s Constitutive Act, which includes institutions for peoples’ participation, for instance, the Pan African Parliament and the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). This paper compares and contrasts the security architecture and conflict management during the era of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union (AU). In so doing, the paper will critically analyse which supra-national body had a progressive security architecture and conflict management system.

Security Architecture and Conflict Management of OAU and AU

During the OAU era, the domain of peace and security was considered the exclusive domestic jurisdiction of member states. It did not have a well-defined security architecture framework. The OAU had weaknesses its approach to peace security issues in Africa. Whenever the OAU was expected to intervene in internal disputes or systematic violations of human rights, it failed in the pretext of following the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs (Article III of the OAU Charter). This saw conflicts in Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone and the genocide in Rwanda go on without any significant efforts to end them by the OAU.[1] However, in 2002, the African Union was established as the successor of the OAU, symbolising a normative shift from non-intervention to non-indifference accompanied by the establishment of an elaborate institutional architecture.[2]

The establishment of OAU failed to solve the problem of escalating internal armed conflicts due to its principles of non-intervention and respect for the sovereignty of states. Subsequently, the idea of non-interference and respect for the territorial integrity of states was challenged. This saw the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) in 2001.[3]

During the thirty-nine (39) years of its existence, the OAU had a reputation for reacting to conflict rather than anticipating it. Most measures implemented by the OAU were ineffective and one-sided and suffered as a result of its uncoordinated structure. Besides, its efforts were not supported by any frameworks for conflict prevention, and Africa did not have a collective vision. It will be necessary to implement effective forward-thinking, continent-wide policy.[4]

The reasons for these failures of the OAU were in part a result of a lack of sovereignty experienced by African states in the early post-colonial era. The newly independent states were fragile and weak, and still subject to the whims of their former colonial masters. Countries gained political independence but, crucially, not economic independence, and had little say in the international arena beyond their region. Implementation of a coherent, continent-wide strategy for conflict prevention was beyond the capacity of any coalition of African nations for much of the post-independence era. In 1993, the Cairo Declaration gave OAU states a legal mechanism for conflict resolution.[5] However, it was unable to deliver, and an absence of early warning systems facilitated atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide.

The realisation that a business-as-usual approach could not ameliorate the African condition led to the founding of the AU and a new African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). A holistic approach to anticipating crises and conflicts was put into place. A new Peace and Security Council (PSC) was created and supported by the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) and the African Standby Force (ASF). Since the formation of APSA, Africans have led missions in Somalia, Mali, Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR). In contrast, capacity building and outreach programmes have proved much more useful than did previous efforts. Also, the Panel of the Wise (PoW), a high-level mediation panel and consultative body of the AU, has coordinated reconciliation processes in Liberia, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros and Côte d’Ivoire. The AU also established the Regional Cooperation Initiative (RCI) to coordinate the operationalisation of the African Standby Force (ASF), and to improve the African capacity for an immediate response to emergencies.

The AU Constitutive Act (2000) includes a commitment to respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance, respect for the sanctity of human life, and condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments, amongst other principles. However, above all, a ground-breaking principle was adopted in the Constitutive Act, giving the AU the right “to intervene in a Member State according to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”[6] Along with the establishment of the AU was the establishment of the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) as the sole decision-making body of the AU and the anchor of the Conflict management under the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)’s an institutional framework.

The Constitutive Act of the AU authorises and enables it to intervene in a member state in grave circumstances, for instance, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.[7] It was against the backdrop of security challenges that the African Union in collaboration with European Union, Group of Eight countries (G. 8), and other international organisations and states like the United States of America, decided to establish APSA. The APSA’s aim was for conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution, post-conflict reconstruction or rebuilding and generally, peacebuilding and peace supports in Africa. This is to build and strengthen African capacities for managing and resolving conflicts on the continent. The emergence of the APSA is one of the most significant recent developments in Africa. The institutional setting for fostering peace and security on the continent has been created by the efforts of African governments to engage in comprehensive continental integration.[8]

Thus, it can be argued that AU’s security and peace management was more progressive than the OAU. The African Union has adopted a holistic approach to peacebuilding that, security, and development, and emphasises the significance of national ownership of post-conflict reconstruction efforts. It is authorised to coordinate the efforts of  Africa’s eight significant Regional  Economic  Communities  (RECs); namely, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); the Southern African Development Community (SADC); the  Intergovernmental  Authority on  Development (IGAD); the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); the East African Community (EAC); the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU); and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). It is also mandated to involve civil society groups/actors.[9]  

The AU, through the principle of subsidiarity, shares responsibility with these economic communities (RECs) in ensuring that its activities were fully implemented in the regions. These institutions are also mandated to develop regional mechanisms to address conflicts and to support post-conflict peacebuilding efforts within their respective regions.[10] Making use of regional organisations is always the first stage of action taken by the AU. AU is seeking to strengthen these existing regional groupings in order to make continental integration easier and to ensure that solutions to conflicts and crises are more durable and practical.

The AU is meeting terrorist threats with localised strategies – for example, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) countering al-Shabaab and a dedicated force dealing with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The AU has established an effective communications system for member states to use when countering terrorists in order to coordinate responses continent-wide. The perception that Africa is increasingly plagued by terrorism is mainly attributable to the high profile of Boko Haram. The AU has identified action areas to target the grass-roots causes of the problem. At the forefront of which is the education of women to undo the effects of the terrorists’ propaganda.[11]

The AU is working closely with the UN to evolve their partnership and improve this capacity even further. Despite the successes of the new approach, the question is whether these processes could remain cost-effective and sustainable in an environment in which economic resources are decreasing, and there is an increasing reliance on single donors. It was important for the AU to find alternative sources of funding both to ensure neutrality and to maintain its operational capacity. It is also essential that Africa’s governance architecture is bolstered to address the root causes of conflict, including both infrastructural capacity and willingness to tackle issues such as human rights abuses.[12]

However, it unacceptable that most of the AU’s budget continues to depend on the support of its partners. As such, African solutions to African problems should continue to be a priority for the organisation. The AU should work hard to try to find avenues through which progress towards self-sustainability can be made. The AU is receiving additional help in these matters from the EU and other international bodies.

The newly established African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) can help put pressure on governments to achieve these goals. The APRM is a powerful tool that evaluates member states on their successes and failures in a wide range of areas. Under the APRM, leaders submit themselves to public scrutiny and peer review. Currently, 38 African states have voluntarily signed up to this process.

The AU is attempting to coordinate a long-term vision for the future through Agenda 2063, a 50-year strategic action plan which was intended to be implemented by mid-2015. By the end of its life cycle, the Agenda aimed to ensure that peace and security are maintained, that institutional infrastructure was improved to normalise effective oversight and that there was a fully functional peace and security architecture made up of African forces.[13] Through using the recently established peace and security mechanisms of the AU, the ultimate goal of the Agenda was to eliminate the causes and necessity of all violent conflict on the continent.


On the whole, AU has more progressive peace and security management architectures than the OAU. The major weakness of the OAU was its failure to intervene in the internal conflict of member states. There is growing respect for the AU on the part of the international community, and especially among Security Council members. As long as the AU continues to focus on fundamental values such as human rights, equality and democracy, it will become more influential internationally. Cooperation with AU member states is increasingly being sought, and that the organisation has unique partnerships with the most significant and wealthiest nations in the world. It is essential for the AU to prove that it is competent. Further demonstrations that the APSA has a positive impact will continue to increase the AU’s standing on the world stage.

[1] Dersso, S., 2013. The African Peace and Security Architecture in Murithi, T. (Ed). 2013. Handbook of Africa’s International Relations Publisher. London: Routledge.

[2] African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). 2015. 2014 Assessment Study: Final Report. 16 April 2015.

[3] Tiruneh, B.T.  (2010).  Establishing an Early  Warning System in the  African Peace and Security  Architecture: Challenges and Prospects.  Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) Occasional Paper, 29, September.

[4] Chergui Smaïl (2014) The African Union’s Role in Promoting Peace, Security and Stability: From Reaction to Prevention?

[5] Ibid

[6] African Union (AU). 2000. Constitutive Act

[7] Mbogo, S.  (2006). African Peacekeeping Force Development Continues Despite Funding Challenges. World Politics Watch, 21 December.

[8] Gänzle, S. and Franke, B. (2010). African Developments: Continental Conflict Management – a glass half-full or half-empty? German Development Institute (DIE) Briefing Paper, July.

[9] Adebajo, A. (2011). UN Peacekeeping in Africa: From the Suez Crisis to the Sudan Conflicts. London: Lynne Rienner.

[10] Aning, K. and Lartey, EA (2014).  The Role of RECs in Peacebuilding in Africa:  Past Experiences and the Way Forward.  Cairo Policy Briefs, 3.

[11] Desmidt, S. and Marclint, T.E (2016). Who Pays for Peace in Africa? Afronline – The Voice of Africa. September 2016.

[12] Ibid

[13] Chergui Smaïl (2014) The African Union’s Role in Promoting Peace, Security and Stability: From Reaction to Prevention?