Although there are many internal and external reasons for the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in 1963, it can be encapsulated in what Emperor Haileselassie stated back then.
"The task, on which we have embarked, the making of Africa, will not wait. We must act, to shape and mould the future and leave our imprint on events as they pass into history," he said.
"We are determined to create a union of Africans. In a very real sense, our continent is unmade; it still awaits its creation and its creators."
Fifty years is more than the life expectancy of many Africans. Thus, the crucial question is what has been achieved in the last 50 years? Where is Africa now?
In the post-independence period, the people of Africa were ruled by brutal military dictators, engaged in proxy wars and conflicts, such as; Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Jean-Bedel Bokasa and Mengistu Hailemariam, among many others. These leaders were different, both in caliber and mission, from those who had founded the OAU. That is why the years of the 1970s and 1980s, even to a certain extent the 1990s, were described as the lost decades.
Whilst a great deal of the optimism for peace remains, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR) and Guinea Bissau; genocide in Rwanda; state failure in Somalia; and secessionist movements in Sudan, became real challenges to the new and old African leaderships, demanding urgent attention and action. African conflicts became more intra-state and less inter-state, with localised manifestations and coverage, rather than civil wars engulfing entire countries.
It is in order to meet the various African challenges that the institutional transformation of the OAU to the African Union (AU) was realised. This required the amendment of the OAU Charter, in order to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation.
It is the change of circumstances, inside and outside Africa, which convinced the leaders on the continent to adopt the AU Constitutive Act, with the main objective of shifting the mission and vision of the OAU, from an anti-apartheid organisation of anti-colonial solidarity, to a more interventionist and integrationist union.
Certainly, in spite of many positive developments taking place in numerous African countries, and despite the fact that Africa is the cradle of mankind and the birthplace of humanity, it cannot be denied that many African countries also now find themselves in a depressing state of affairs, with millions of Africans suffering from HIV/Aids, a lack of food, clean water, basic health care services, good education and many other basic necessities.
Although Africa is rich in mineral and oil resources, with the aggregate outflow from Africa, in terms of the value of mineral, oil and other resources (legally and illegally) estimated to be around 400 billion dollars a year, many African countries are aid-dependent, so much so that some governments cannot survive without external support. Despite the fact that we have a spectacularly beautiful continent, many ordinary Africans, as well as many African scholars and intellectuals, are desperate to migrate to other continents, even if it requires taking hazardous journeys.
Although there are multiple causes for the problem, first and foremost a lack of strong, committed, dedicated and selfless leaders, with a vision that is loyal to the people of Africa, remains a major obstacle to the future of the continent. Within the current African leadership there is much rhetoric and very little substance, with minimal action in tackling Africa's chronic socio-economic and political anarchy, as well as its technological underdevelopment.
Despite what many optimists say about Africa, the fact is that Africa has many complex and diverse problems that cannot be solved simply by declarations, slogans and resolutions alone.
Many critics argue that democracy in Africa has so far not been deeply rooted and sustainable. Nor has it delivered food and dignity for the people on the continent.
There is now an increasing awareness and recognition that many of the problems emanate from poor leadership. Governments have failed to empower their people to embark on meaningful and sustainable development initiatives and have not created the conditions to realise their creative potentials.
We cannot have an Africa with dignity, so long as there is only minimal trust and confidence between the leaders and their own people. Much to our regret, it is alleged that many African leaders are more frightened about criticisms made by Western leaders and journalists, than those coming from their own scholars and intellectuals, as well as the rest of their people.
We cannot have an Africa with dignity, so long as some Africans are more loyal to the promotion of foreign interests, than those of their own people. True, the participation of the people of Africa is crucial for its transformation.
But, it should not be a deceptive participation. Participation without real competition is meaningless.
The poor and marginalised, including women and other social groups, in many African countries are losing hope in their political leaders, who tend to be obsessed with their own power and security, rather than the well being of their people. They tend to promise a lot, but deliver very little.
New elections, also, do not seem to bring about fundamental change, in order to improve governance and the living conditions of the vast majority of Africans. What is often forgotten is that those who make reforms impossible make revolution inevitable.
So our appeal to the African leaders, after 50 years of the establishment of the OAU, is to commit to serving the interests of the people of Africa. If their main interest is to genuinely serve their own people, African leaders must practice what they preach in the AU halls and move away from rhetoric and towards implementation.
The way some African opposition groups behave and act is also dismaying. At times, they are also part of the problem. They seem to be obsessed with obtaining power at any cost, rather than with an aspiration to transform the nature of politics in their respective countries.
What can the AU now do?
The answer is simple. The AU is a reflection of Africa and an illustration of the strengths and weaknesses of its member states. It cannot exercise powers that are not delegated by its members.
If African leaders are not genuinely committed to the implementation of the declarations and resolutions they themselves have approved, the AU cannot do it for them. One should look at the euphoria generated by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), more than 10 years ago. It was anticipated to be the economic blueprint of African economic and development policy.
But where is it now? What is the status, role and influence of NEPAD in 2013, after 10 years?
There are too many empty declarations and resolutions, and too much focus on manufacturing slogans and feel-good advertisements. A development is only ever as good as its implementation
Hence, it is time to move on from rhetoric and into action. Although, there are good reasons to recall and celebrate, there are also huge challenges that lay ahead, which Africa and the AU have to overcome. There is still much work to be done.
Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu, a Professor At the Ethiopian Civil Service University (ecsu), and Mehari Tedla Maru (phd), an Independent Consultant On International Affairs.