“Unite we must…unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent,” declared Kwame Nkrumah, first President of independent Ghana, at the first meeting of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) in May 1963 in Addis Ababa.

“[W]e can, here and now, forge a political union based on defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, a common citizenship, an African currency, an African monetary zone and an African central bank,” Mr. Nkrumah continued, laying out a vision for a continent emerging from colonialism, yet inching towards the factionalism of the cold war.

On Saturday, 50 years to the date, African leaders and representatives of partner countries shall gather once more in Addis Ababa to celebrate a union that boldly supported liberation movements like in South Africa, and reflect on why it faltered in the face of genocides like in Rwanda. India shall be represented by Vice President Hamid Ansari.

“Like in 1963 when the founding states took their first steps into political independence, in 2013 we seek Africa taking off towards peace and prosperity,” said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), in a speech to delegates, “Despite the progress of the last decade on the economic front, this has not yet translated into rapid social transformation.”

In 2002, the OAU was disbanded and replaced by the African Union. The OAU succeeded in its primary task of ending colonial rule on the continent; its successor, the AU, is tasked with ensuring its members protect, respect and serve their respective populations, even as it strives for more equitable political and economic relations with the international community.

This week, delegates grappled with much unfinished business. A continental free trade area is expected in 2017, a monetary union is likely to take much longer. Of particular concern is the AU’s reliance on international partners like the European Union (EU) to finance its development objectives.

“Our operational budget is 100 per cent financed by member states, [but] 42 per cent of the development budget is from foreign [partners],” said Erastus J. O. Mwencha, AUC Deputy Chairman, “It is not possible that partners will always align themselves to your priorities.” At the summit, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is expected to present a much-awaited report on alternative funding mechanisms for the AU.

Resource shortfalls have meant that institutions like the African Standby Force are some way off. Mr. Mwencha said the force would not deployable before 2015. Without its own troops, the AU has struggled to control continental conflicts. The OAU was distinctly non-interventionist, but the Rwandan genocide forced the AU to adopt a policy of “non-indifference” which formed the basis of robust military operations like the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

In Mali this year, however, the inability of the AU to finance its own force resulted in a French military intervention to contain an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country. In April, the United Nations took ownership of the multinational mission in Mali, prompting a sharp rebuke from the AU. “Africa was not appropriately consulted,” noted an AUC communiqué, “this situation is not in consonance with the spirit of partnership that the AU and UN have been striving to promote”.

The AU has also supported fragile domestic governments from military coups, and taken a tough line with military dictators. Last month Chairperson Dr. Zuma spoke of how coup-leaders were increasingly organising sham elections to legitimise their tenures and said that such eyewash was no longer acceptable. However, she chose not to comment on African leaders who stay in office long after their terms are due.

Analysts say the AU’s task, on a variety of fronts, maybe be made easier if national governments take more responsibility. “I’ve always seen governance as the mother theme,” said Olusegun Akinsanya, former Nigerian Ambassador and Regional Director of the Institute of Security Studies, “Africa cannot develop alone, but of course it needs to look internally as well.”

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