With challenges such as Brexit and more general clampdowns on free movement, the future of the European Union is fraught with uncertainty.

Meanwhile, south of the Mediterranean multilateral cooperation is expanding, in large part due to the work of the African Union (AU).

Image: West Africa Gateway

What is it?

The AU is a continental union with a wide range of goals aimed at strengthening its member states both individually and collectively..

Following Morocco’s admission in January, the AU now comprises all 55 African countries, although the war-torn Central African Republic’s membership is currently suspended.

A general view shows the headquarters of the African Union (AU) building in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri - RTSXWBK
Image: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The AU was launched in Durban, South Africa in 2002, replacing the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Why does it exist?

The AU’s stated mission is “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in [the] global arena”.

A deadline of 2063 has been set to achieve this mission, representing the centenary of the OAU's formation. Agenda 2063's aspirations include:

• A prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development

• An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism

• An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

To achieve the goals set by Agenda 2063, the AU Commission – one of a number of bodies within the AU – is setting itself a series of five 10-year plans, with the first plan running from 2014 to 2023.

Some of the goals set out in the First 10-Year Implementation Plan include a rise of a third in real per-capita incomes by 2023 and a 20% reduction in hunger.

One of the goals that has seen most progress is the free movement of goods throughout the continent.

The AU aims to establish a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by the end of 2017, creating the largest free trade area in the world.

According to the African Export-Import Bank, free trade in Africa was worth $180 billion in 2016, less than a fifth of the total $930 billion of trade on the continent. By way of comparison, free trade in Europe accounts for nearly two-thirds of all trade.

It is hoped the CFTA will boost free trade levels by a third by 2021.

What does it do?

Similar to the EU, the AU comprises a number of different entities with different responsibilities, such as a Commission, a Parliament and a Court of Justice.

It also includes technical committees for different sectors covering areas such as agriculture, trade, transport and education, plus financial institutions such as the African Central Bank. Member states are represented in every entity associated with the AU.

Just like the European Commission, the Commission of the African Union is the AU’s administrative and executive branch.

Newly elected African Union Commission Chairman, Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat (R) talks to the outgoing Chairperson of the Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma during his swearing-in ceremony at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri - RTX30YYC
Image: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri - RTX30YYC

Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Commission is responsible for developing continent-wide policies in areas such as security, trade and social affairs, and every 10-year plan in the run-up to 2063.