As leaders of the 53-member African Union prepare to meet in Ethiopia next week for a summit, a report commissioned by leading non-governmental organizations is urging the African Union to improve its performance and show greater public accountability and transparency. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

Several non-governmental organizations, including Oxfam Great Britain and the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, commissioned the report to be presented ahead of the summit, which begins on Monday.

Supported by 19 other groups, the report is the first independent assessment of the Addis Ababa-based organization since it was founded nearly five years ago.

Oxfam spokesman Irungu Houghton tells VOA that the 72-page document highlights the urgent need for the African Union to change the way it communicates and engages ordinary people in its decision-making process.

"The original vision and mission of the African Union says that they want an Africa that is integrated, prosperous and peaceful, but that it is driven also by its own citizens. In order for that to happen, there needs to be creativity and innovation in terms of how information is communicated," said Houghton.

The report's conclusion is largely based on research of African Union-related materials and interviews with government employees, staff of embassies in Addis Ababa, the African Union Commission and civil society organizations from 11 countries throughout the continent.

Houghton says one of the biggest concerns is the lack of transparency in African Union meetings. He says the results of these state-level meetings have the potential to effect millions of people on the continent, but Africans are rarely given any voice in the debate.

"A key example is that the documents that are discussed at the summit are not accessible, either on the Internet or even when you are in the compound where the discussion is taking place," said Houghton. "It is very difficult to understand what decisions are being made, what is being discussed by our leaders, and what implications this would have for our continent."

The report strongly urges leaders of member states to, among other things, inform and consult national parliaments of major issues in advance of summits and to circulate draft documents to ensure proper preparation and follow-up to the meetings.

The African Union is the successor to the Organization of African Unity, which was disbanded in 2002. During its 39 years of existence, critics often referred to the OAU as "the dictators' club," arguing it did little to protect the rights of African citizens from their own political leaders.