Workshop – Visions of African Unity – 4/6 March 2019, University of the Free State – Bloemfontein South Africa

55 years ago, on 25 May 1963, the leaders of 32 African countries signed the charter of the Organisation of African Unity at Addis Ababa. This institution enshrined a revolutionary vision of continental unity which in many ways challenged previous ideas on African post-colonial political and economic order. The OAU also brought about the establishment of bodies which allowed its members to create connections and synergies aimed at the further liberation and unification of the continent (e.g. the Assembly of Heads of State and Government and specialized committees such as the Liberation Committee).

The model of continental unification embodied by the 1963 OAU charter was not, however, shared by all 32 founding members. Different ideas on institutions, economic cooperation, pan-Africanism and the positioning of the continent in the Cold War clashed before, during and after the talks at Addis Ababa. The members of the OAU also had to cope with the challenges of the Cold War intervention into African affairs during the next decades, major economic crises which effected the whole continent and the problem of political refugees. All these crucial questions urged the members to discuss common solutions, measures and rules.  Still, the creation of the OAU did not preclude the development of parallel projects of federalism at a regional level and overall the imagining of alternatives to a straight path to continental political unity. Regional groupings such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community have emerged as effective regional integration projects, simultaneously challenging and confirming the potential for continental unification. Non-state actors also came together to create alternative pan-African groupings and tackle continental challenges. Immigrants, refugees and freedom fighters all developed competing ideas about the rationale behind unification.

This workshop is intended as a fundamental and key event of a project for an edited volume entitled Visions of African Unity (1930s-2019). The call for this book has already been published in mid-March 2018 on various platforms (H-net, ASAUK, academia and others). This edited collection seeks to bring together scholars from within Africa and outside of the continent to shed light on the long history of African unification. Surprising as it may be, despite the importance of the subject matters, the literature on continental unity is limited, and many aspects of this fundamental element of post-colonial African and International history still require analysis.  In 1975 and in 1994 Yassin El-Ayouty edited volumes on the history and politics of the Organization of African Unity, discussing the developments of the body after ten years and thirty years respectively from its founding. This collection seeks to build on that work, but also aspires to go beyond the narrow bounds of the OAU in an attempt to understand how the organisation fits within the wider history of African integration.

Bloemfontein Campus Building


Dr Matteo Grilli is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Studies Group, University of the Free State.

Dr. Frank Gerits is a lecturer at Utrecht University (Netherlands) and he is a research associate of the International Studies Group, UFS.