The prestigious headquarters of the African Union has stood proudly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia since the organization’s founding over half a century ago. From its gleaming buildings perched high in the city, the AU has coordinated Africa’s rise on the global stage and spearheaded efforts to achieve the vision of a united, prosperous continent.
However, recent calls have emerged questioning whether this historical home remains the right location as new challenges emerge.
In a strongly-worded piece, a recent commentary published in Modern Diplomacy advocated relocating the headquarters of the African Union from its current home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This proposal fails to sufficiently consider the historical and strategic rationale for locating the AU where it is.
What is missing is an appreciation for Ethiopia’s central role in the liberation of Africa and why Addis Ababa was chosen as the seat of the AU in the first place. A relocation requires careful consideration of these deeper factors, not an angry reaction to short-term challenges.
Ethiopia has paid an immeasurable price in its efforts to support Africa’s independence movements and help lay the foundations for pan-African cooperation. As the only African nation to repel a European colonial invasion at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, Ethiopia came to symbolize resistance to foreign domination across the continent.
In the ensuing decades, Haile Selassie opened Ethiopia’s borders to exiled African nationalists from all over the region, providing them sanctuary to plan their struggles. Figures like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania received assistance and guidance in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia also contributed troops to help liberate territories like Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola from colonial rule.
When the time came to establish a unified pan-African body, leaders rightly acknowledged Ethiopia’s selfless contributions by locating the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 1963.
Far from being an arbitrary choice, it recognized Ethiopia as the spiritual home of African patriotism and independence. Ethiopia has continued hosting the AU since it replaced the OAU in 2002, incurring significant costs but gaining no special economic or political privileges in return. Relocating now without serious consideration would dishonor Ethiopia’s sacrifices and undermine the motives of the founder members of these institutions.
While Ethiopia faces internal and external challenges, its government remains firmly committed to pan-African ideals and activities. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has invested heavily in mediating conflicts across the region and promoting integration initiatives within the AU framework. Ethiopia also contributes the second largest amount of financial and human resources to AU operations after only the African Development Bank.
Questions have arisen about Abiy’s domestic and external record, especially in the Horn of Africa, but Ethiopia is as dedicated as ever to the vision of continental unity and cooperation pursued by the AU.
Before making demands for relocation, critics should propose concrete ways to support Ethiopia through its present difficulties rather than abandoning it. Relocation could seriously impair the AU’s work by requiring the transfer of staff and infrastructure to an uncertain new location. It may please some short-term critics but risks undermining the AU’s foundations and access to Ethiopia’s facilities over the longer term. A wiser approach is to engage constructively with Ethiopia to address priority concerns while affirming solidarity in its historic hosting role.
Far from reactions driven by a “Somali citizens anger” that arise after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister signed an MoU with the breakaway region Somaliland for the construction of a base for Ethiopia’s navy, any reconsideration of this sensitive issue requires inclusive dialogue and mutual understanding across the African public.
A more prudent path is to redouble continental efforts towards conflict resolution, democratic deepening, and economic development—the real guarantees of stability both in Ethiopia and across the AU’s expanding mandate.
With Africa facing growing internal and global challenges, now is not the time for hasty breaks with the choices of the continental founding generation. Their wisdom in locating the AU in Ethiopia should continue guiding African unity in the present.
In fact, a wiser approach is to uphold Ethiopia’s place in Addis Ababa through renewed commitment to supporting its stability, while still constructively addressing challenges. With care, understanding, and cooperation between member states, the AU can navigate present difficulties from a position of principle rooted in history, rather than reactionary proposals that may compromise its future effectiveness.