In May 1963, thirty-two independent African States, who had genuine hopes and visions for the continent of Africa, came together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to create the Organization of African Unity (OAU). I had the privilege of hearing a detailed account about the staging of the 1963 Addis Ababa Summit Conference, and the reason as to why the Ethiopian capital became the site of the OAU headquarters, from a man who was once described by the international media as being closer than any other to the staging of the creation of the OAU. The man was none other than my father, the late Ketema Yifru, who was the Ethiopian Foreign Minister (1961-1971) at the time. Ketema Yifru was also recognized by the media as having played a prominent role in the creation of Africa's regional organization.
Based on the discussions I had with my father as well as his taped and written interviews, I now clearly understand what he meant when he said, "Only a few are aware of the hard work and all the effort that brought about the creation of the OAU." Most of the public is not aware of the shuttle diplomacy, the closed door negotiations, and all the tireless effort, in general, that paved the way to creating the OAU. In addition, the majority of the public is not aware of the fierce diplomatic battle that was fought by a number of states to have the OAU headquartered in their respective capital cities.
Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru with Emperor Haile Selassie
After I spoke to many people and read through a number of books that have been written on this subject, it dawned on me that many are not privy to the details behind the formation of Africa's regional organization. It seems that other than a handful of people, the majority are not aware of the OAU's history and its formation. It is my hope that once this article reaches the public, it will give the readers an opportunity to understand the history behind the creation of the OAU. The article that you are about to read is solely based on the former Ethiopian Foreign Minister, the late Ketema Yifru's account on how the OAU was formed. The BBC's Focus on Africa Report describing Ketema Yifru's role in the creation of the OAU, stated that he was probably closer than any other to the staging of the 1963 Addis Ababa Summit Conference, which paved the way to the creation of the OAU.
Ketema Yifru was promoted to the rank of Foreign Minister in 1961 - a period in which the rift between the Monrovia and Casablanca Groups seemed to have caused a permanent division in the continent. Ketema Yifru was an active participant in all the meetings and negotiations that led to the creation of the OAU. He also played a leading role in the August 1963 Dakar Foreign Ministers Conference, where the question regarding the location of the OAU's headquarters was once and for all resolved. This article will give the reader a bird's eye view of the events that led to the creation of the OAU. In addition, it will also put to rest the unfounded speculation of the reason as to why the Ethiopian capital was chosen to house the headquarters of Africa's regional organization.
President Kwame Nkrumah
In order to strengthen the continent of Africa and to make it less vulnerable to outside influence, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana strongly believed that the continent should be united. Thus, in the late 1950s, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah started a movement, which stressed the immediate unity of the African continent.
When Dr. Kwame Nkrumah introduced the concept of African Unity to the continent, a division, which was based on the implementation of this new concept, was created at the onset. On one hand there were those countries which believed in the immediate unity of Africa. These countries were originally Ghana, Guinea, and Mali. Later on Egypt, the Transitional Government of Algeria, and Morocco, joined the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union to form the Casablanca Group. On the other hand, the twenty-four member Monrovia Group, otherwise known as the Conservatives, which included Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Togo, and many others believed in a much more gradual approach to the question of African Unity. Many believed that the rift between the two groups would become permanent and thus ending the hopes and dreams of African Unity.
Presidents Modibo Kieta of Mali, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Seku Toure of Guinea (1960)
Yet, in May 1963, these two opposing groups were able to come together to form the Organization of African Unity. Many had speculated as to how such opposing groups would merge to form the OAU. Some have suggested that all the independent states that came together in Addis Ababa, did so because of the great respect they had for Emperor Haile Selassie. Others have managed to feed the public, through various mediums, with similar unfounded stories as to how the OAU was formed. Even those who have genuine interest in telling the story have not been successful in their endeavors, because it is impossible to tell the story of the creation of the OAU with just a paragraph or two.