Expert opinions differ on how much of an impact G20 membership will have for Africa

Some G20 members present at the G20 summit in New Delhi, India. Image by from Flickr (CC BY-ND 4.0 DEED)

On Saturday, September 9, under the presidency of India, the G20 announced its decision to welcome the African Union (AU) as its newest permanent member. 

As highlighted by the DW News Delhi Bureau Chief Amrita Chima, India led this initiative to enhance representation, with all G20 countries unanimously supporting the decision, as they emphasized the importance of reflecting both emerging and established economies within the G20. The AU's inclusion transforms the G20 into “G20 plus one,” and its membership is backed by 55 countries.

The AU Chairperson Azali Assoumani expressed contentment with the approval of the AU's admission to the G20.

Assoumani highlighted that the AU's inclusion would amplify the global majority's voice within the G20, providing the African continent with an opportunity to advance its agendas on the world stage. Acknowledging Africa's internal challenges, he stressed the importance of multilateralism and collaboration with other G20 countries to address these issues.

The G20, or Group of 20, is an intergovernmental forum representing the world's wealthiest economies. Initially the group comprised 19 sovereign countries and the European Union (EU). South Africa was the only African country member of this group until recently. 

The 55-member African Union boasts a GDP of USD 3 trillion and a population of around 1.4 billion people.

In this article on AP News, Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the chair of the African Union Commission, highlighted that the AU had tirelessly advocated for full membership for over seven years. In June this year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to G20 leaders, suggesting the possibility of granting the African Union membership during the September summit.

In response to this momentous news, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija in an interview with DD India (India’s public broadcast channel), expressed deep emotion and hope for the inclusion of Africa in global geopolitics, emphasizing the significance of breaking the silence and bringing African voices to the forefront. She emphasized, “There are seismic shifts happening in global geopolitics.”

While this decision by G20 is celebrated by many Africans as an opportunity for Africa to assert its influence, expert opinions diverge on the actual impact. Some anticipate positive economic growth and collaboration, while others express skepticism, questioning the effectiveness of the AU and the G20's ability to address Africa's unique challenges.

As reported by VOA, some experts believe that being part of the G20 will provide Africa with opportunities for economic growth, investment, and cooperation with other major economies. However, others are skeptical, viewing the AU's seat as symbolic rather than substantive. They argue that the G20 lacks the ability to effectively respond to recent challenges hindering Africa's democratic progress, such as military coups and irregular elections, and believe the AU's membership is driven by geopolitical rivalry.

In an interview with CGTN Africa, Dr. Sizo Nkala, of the Centre for Africa China Studies at the University of Johannesburg shared his opinion about how the AU's structure could impact its effectiveness within the G20. According to Dr. Sizo, the main challenge with African membership in the G20 lies in the intergovernmental nature of the AU, contrasting with supranational bodies like the European Union. The diverse interests of African member states, ranging from large nations like Nigeria to smaller ones like Eswatini (Swaziland), make consensus-building on G20 issues difficult. He cited instances like the Russia–Ukraine conflict, climate change, and regional conflicts where African countries struggle to reach unified positions. He concluded:

It will be interesting to see how they navigate their G20 membership and arrive at a common position. Perhaps the African Union can devise a mechanism to consult its member states before G20 Summits to ensure effectiveness.

An article by Amani Africa points out that the lack of African representation in the G20 has resulted in decisions that are inefficient, slow, and biased towards creditor nations, hindering Africa's economic development. This article also highlights that AU's membership in the G20 would provide Africa with a platform to address concerns such as illicit financial flows and climate change, while also compensating for the diminished role of the United Nations in economic policy-making. It was also highlighted that Africa's inclusion in the G20 as a member through the AU would shift its status from a passive receiver to an active contributor in global economic and financial decision-making which confirms some of what Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija discussed in her interview on DD India mentioned earlier. 

As the AU assumes its role as the newest member of G20 now G20 plus one, time will reveal the extent to which this inclusion translates into substantive changes for the continent on the global stage.

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