The Group of 20 (G20) recently granted permanent membership status to the African Union at its summit in New Delhi. This important gesture recognizes the fifty African countries and their aspirations for a greater presence on the world stage.
Last year, US President Joe Biden expressed support for the African Union’s permanent membership in the G20, stressing that the move was long overdue. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his joy by warmly welcoming Comorian President Azali Assoumani, who currently chairs the African Union (AU), at the G20 summit hosted by India. Modi’s joy was evident as he welcomed President Assoumani with a hug.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, a former chair of the AU, expressed his congratulations to all of Africa for successfully securing membership, a cause he actively supported. According to spokesperson Ebba Kalondo, the AU has been campaigning for full membership for seven years. South Africa was until now the only G20 member from the bloc.
Let’s take a closer look at the AU and its members, which are of considerable 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, expected to double by 2050 and account for a quarter of the world’s population, as a permanent member of the G20 signifies its growing importance.
The 55 member states of the African Union, including the disputed Western Sahara, are advocating for meaningful participation in global organizations that have historically represented the post-World War II global order, such as the United Nations Security Council .
Additionally, they advocate for reforms to the global financial system, which includes institutions such as the World Bank. These reforms aim to address the problem of African countries facing higher borrowing costs than other countries, thereby worsening 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 settlers: China has the distinction of being the largest Africa’s trading partner and one of its main lenders; Russia is the leading arms supplier; Gulf countries have become major investors on the continent; Somalia is home to Turkey’s largest military base and embassy abroad; and Israel and Iran are actively intensifying their efforts to establish partnerships with other countries.
African leaders have expressed impatience with the portrayal of the continent as a passive victim of war, extremism, hunger and disaster. They reject the idea that Africa is under pressure to align with one world power or another. Some prefer to work as intermediaries, as evidenced by African peace initiatives following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The African Union’s membership in the G20 is an important step that recognizes the continent as a formidable global power.
What does the AU bring to the G20?
The AU, as a full member of the G20, has the capacity to represent a continent that has the largest free trade area in the world. Africa, although it contributes the least to climate change, is strongly affected by its effects. Additionally, the continent is rich in resources needed to combat this global problem.
The inclusion of the African Union also significantly increases the number of economies represented in the 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 last permanent member, the African Union, respectively.
The African continent has 60% of the planet’s renewable energy resources and more than 30% of the minerals essential for renewable and low-carbon technologies. According to a recent United Nations report on Africa’s economic development, Congo alone has almost half of the world’s cobalt, a metal crucial for lithium-ion batteries.
African leaders are increasingly tired of seeing outside entities extract the continent’s resources and reap the benefits elsewhere. They are now advocating for increased industrial development within Africa itself, with the aim of strengthening their economies and maximizing local benefits.
At the first African Climate Summit this week, Kenyan President William Ruto highlighted Africa’s immense wealth given its abundant natural assets. The Nairobi meeting concluded with a strong demand for fair treatment from financial institutions, respect for the commitment of rich countries to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance to developing countries and implementing a global tax on fossil fuels.
It can be difficult to find a common position among AU member states, which range from economic powerhouses like Nigeria and Ethiopia to some of the world’s poorest countries. Some Africans have consistently called on the AU to take a more assertive approach to coups and other crises.
According to Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, former Prime Minister of Niger, and Daouda Sembene, former executive director of the International Monetary Fund, the annual rotation of the body’s presidency poses a challenge to maintaining consistency. They argue that for Africa to have an impact on the G20 decision-making process, it is crucial that the continent presents a unified voice. This was stated in an article published in Project Syndicate this year.
African leaders have demonstrated their willingness to engage in collective action. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a collective effort to denounce the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries. Additionally, they collaborated to collectively procure a substantial amount of supplies for the continent.
As a prominent member of the G20, Africa’s demands will carry greater weight and cannot be easily ignored.
India and China vie for control
China occupies the position of the largest trading partner of the entire African continent, while also being the fourth largest source of international investment. According to government data from Beijing and New Delhi, bilateral trade between China and Africa reached around $282 billion in 2022. During the same period, trade between India and Africa grew. are amounted to almost 98 billion dollars.
In August, the BRICS group, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, announced plans to include six new members. Among these new members are Ethiopia and Egypt, representing the African continent.
Officials from the United States and the European Union are expressing a preference for India to become the main ally of emerging economies, according to international observers.
“China today opposes the West, while India sees itself as a bridge. It does not see itself or its priorities as antagonistic to the West.
India’s idea of global governance is to bring developed and developing countries together to face common challenges. India offers an alternative to China, which many developing countries are more comfortable with,” Harsh Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, based in New Delhi.
Beijing expressed support for the decision to include the African Union in the G20 and also endorsed the joint statement made at the summit. In an online commentary, think tank China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) criticized 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 inviting China. The CICIR accused India of using its G20 presidency to serve as a representative of the Global South.