The remarkable decision by the G20 to admit the African Union as a full permanent member at the opening of their summit in New Delhi, India this week is a welcome step in the right direction. India has lived up to its pledge to make this long overdue step happen during its presidency of the influential forum.
The move is a significant victory for Africa. In joining the Group of 20 as a permanent member, the AU has gained a clearer voice on the global stage, and ways to pursue the continent’s interests and seek solutions that meet Africa’s own needs and priorities, not those of conflicting major world powers that have often seen Africa as a stage on which to exercise their power or settle their differences.
The African Union represents 55 nations with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, populations and cities, and some 1.4 billion people who are expected to represent a quarter of the global population by 2050. Until Saturday, only one of its members, South Africa, was part of G20, and its leaders spared no effort to speak on behalf of Africa. However, accepting the AU as a regional organisation, equal to the European Union, means a recognition of Africa’s growing importance and the vital role it can play in solving global challenges, topped with climate change.
The Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki, said the membership would give African countries, which often struggle to be heard on matters beyond the continent, a platform to push their own agenda. A key issue is likely to be the adaptation by African countries to climate change: They are home to most of the world’s renewable energy resources and contribute no more than four per cent of global gas emissions, although they are the most affected by it.
In repeated climate summits, including COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh, leaders of the wealthy nations responsible for the highest gas emissions have repeated a pledge to provide $100 billion a year to developing and poor nations to adapt to the damaging effects of climate change. This figure was never met; not even half or 25 per cent of it, in fact. Therefore, establishing a special fund at Sharm’s climate summit to look into compensating poor and emerging economies for damages to their environment was a major achievement.
The presence of the AU in G20 gatherings will be a chance to press wealthy nations, and the world’s worst polluters, to keep their word, instead of simply delivering well-crafted speeches with lots of hot air.
The AU’s membership in the G20 will also provide much needed support for another long-awaited step, which is to allow Africa to have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. No international politics expert or observer could conceivably deny that we are witnessing a new world order in the making, and that the rules made up by the great powers after winning World War II in 1945 can no longer be sustained.
While opening the door to structural changes in this influential world body will be difficult as several other world and regional countries would compete to gain a permanent Security Council seat, the African continent as a bloc certainly deserves to be represented, considering its huge resources and contribution to the world economy. The days of treating African nations as former colonies whose peoples do not know what is good for them and are always in need for patrons to put them on the right track are long gone.
African Union leaders will now have to do their own homework to come up with a formula to make this ambition come true, instead of competing over which African country in particular should take over the seat. Giving the AU, as a regional bloc, a seat at the G20 could be a good starting point for discussions as it will allow a different African country to represent the entire continent once every two years. This year Africa’s representative at the Group of 20 is the president of Comoros in his capacity as AU president.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who was invited to the G20 Summit as a guest, praised the group’s decision to admit the AU as a full member. Along with the host country, India, he also called for addressing imbalances in the global financial structure, developing international finance institutions, and providing durable solutions for the structural problems facing developing countries. These problems include, in particular, growing debt; the diminishing effectiveness of development aid and challenging conditions for obtaining it; a widening chasm on the way to sustainable development; and a just transition to low-carbon economies.
During the summit, India’s finance minister called for serious reforms to the Multilateral Development Banks, or MDBs, tasked with driving economic development in poorer countries. A review by an independent expert group found that the current funding, at $192 billion for 2022, was equivalent to just two-thirds of what it was during the financial crisis in 2008 and a fraction of the world’s developing countries’ GDP.
After Egypt joined the BRICS (which includes key G20 members such as China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa) as a full member, there is definitely an agenda on the table to work to represent and serve the interests of the peoples of the south and the African continent in particular.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly