What does the African Union’s inclusion in the G20 mean?

    The Group of 20 (G20) recently granted permanent membership to the African Union at its summit in New Delhi. This significant gesture recognises Africa’s more than 50 countries and their aspirations for a greater presence on the global stage.

    Last year, US President Joe Biden expressed his support for the African Union’s permanent membership in the G20, emphasising that this decision has been long overdue. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his joy by warmly welcoming Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who currently serves as the chair of the African Union (AU), during the G20 summit hosted by India. Modi’s happiness was evident as he greeted President Assoumani with a hug.

    Senegal President Macky Sall, the previous chair of the AU, expressed his congratulations to all of Africa for their achievement in obtaining membership, a cause he actively supported. According to spokesperson Ebba Kalondo, the AU has been advocating for full membership for a period of seven years. South Africa has been the only member of the G20 from the bloc until now.

    Let’s take a closer look at the AU and its membership, which holds significant importance in a world where Africa plays a central role in discussions regarding climate change, food security, migration, and various other pressing issues.

    What are the implications for Africa?

    The inclusion of a continent with a young population of 1.3 billion, which is projected to double by 2050 and account for a quarter of the global population, as a permanent member of the G20 signifies its growing prominence.

    The African Union’s 55 member states, including the disputed Western Sahara, have been advocating for significant participation in global organisations that have historically represented the post-World War II world order, such as the United Nations Security Council. 

    Additionally, they are advocating for reforms to the global financial system, which encompasses institutions such as the World Bank. These reforms aim to address the issue of African countries being subjected to higher borrowing costs compared to other nations, thereby exacerbating their debt burden.

    Africa is attracting investment and political attention from a new wave of global powers, extending beyond the United States and the continent’s former European colonists: China holds the distinction of being Africa’s largest trading partner and one of its major lenders; Russia is the leading provider of arms; gulf nations have emerged as major investors in the continent; Somalia hosts Turkey’s largest overseas military base and embassy; and Israel and Iran are actively expanding their efforts to establish partnerships with other countries.

    African leaders have expressed their impatience with the portrayal of the continent as a passive victim of war, extremism, hunger, and disaster. They reject the notion that Africa is pressured to align with one global power or another. There are individuals who prefer to work as brokers, as evidenced by the African peace initiatives that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    Granting membership to the African Union in the G20 is a significant step that acknowledges the continent as a formidable global power.

    What does the AU bring to G20?

    The AU, as a full member of the G20, has the ability to represent a continent that boasts the world’s largest free trade area. Africa, despite contributing the least to climate change, is heavily impacted by its effects. Moreover, the continent is abundantly rich in the resources necessary to combat this global issue.

    African Union’s inclusion also significantly boosts the number of economies represented by G20; this now 21-member group represents 100 countries in the form of 19 independent countries and 82 European and African countries through the European Union and their latest permanent member the African Union, respectively. 

    The African continent possesses 60% of the world’s renewable energy resources and over 30% of the minerals that are crucial for renewable and low-carbon technologies. According to a recent United Nations report on Africa’s economic development, Congo alone possesses nearly half of the world’s cobalt, a crucial metal for lithium-ion batteries.

    African leaders are growing weary of witnessing external entities extracting the continent’s resources and reaping the benefits elsewhere. They are now advocating for increased industrial development within Africa itself, aiming to bolster their economies and maximise local advantages.

    During the inaugural Africa Climate Summit this week, Kenyan President William Ruto emphasised the immense wealth of Africa when considering its abundant natural assets. The gathering in Nairobi concluded with a strong demand for fair treatment from financial institutions, the fulfilment of rich countries’ commitment to provide $100 billion annually in climate financing for developing nations, and the implementation of a worldwide tax on fossil fuels.

    It can be challenging to find a common position among the member states of the AU, which range from economic powers like Nigeria and Ethiopia to some of the world’s poorest nations. There have been persistent calls from certain Africans for the AU to adopt a more assertive approach in addressing coups and other crises.

    According to Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, a former prime minister of Niger, and Daouda Sembene, a former executive director of the International Monetary Fund, the annual rotation of the body’s chairmanship poses a challenge to maintaining consistency. They argue that for Africa to have an impact on G20 decision-making, it is crucial for the continent to present a unified voice. This was stated in an article published in Project Syndicate this year.

    African leaders have demonstrated their readiness to engage in collective action. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a collective effort to denounce the hoarding of vaccines by affluent nations. Additionally, they collaborated to collectively procure a substantial quantity of supplies for the continent.

    As a prominent member of the G20, Africa’s demands will carry greater weight and cannot be easily overlooked.

    India and China vie for control

    China holds the position of being the largest trading partner for the entire African continent, while also ranking as the fourth-largest source of international investment. According to government data from Beijing and New Delhi, bilateral trade between China and Africa reached approximately $282 billion in 2022. In the same period, trade between India and Africa amounted to nearly $98 billion.

    In August, the BRICS grouping, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, made an announcement stating their willingness to include six new members. Among these new members are Ethiopia and Egypt, representing the African continent.

    According to international observers, officials from the US and EU express a preference for India to become the leading ally among emerging economies. 

    “China today stands in opposition to the West, whereas India sees itself as a bridge. It doesn’t see itself or its priorities as antagonistic to the West. 

    India’s idea of global governance is to bring together the developed and developing world to face common challenges. India provides an alternative to China, which a lot of developing countries are more comfortable with,” Harsh Pant, the vice president of studies and foreign policy at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told DW.

    Beijing expressed its support for the decision to include the African Union in the G20 and also endorsed the joint declaration made during the summit. In an online commentary, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) think tank criticised India for its actions in the G20, accusing it of creating divisions and rivalries.

    The think tank also pointed out that India hosted the Global Voice of the South online summit earlier this year without extending an invitation to China. The CICIR has accused India of utilising its presidency of the G20 to serve as a representative for the Global South.

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