The African Union and India's G20 presidency - Hindustan Times

The African Union and India's G20 presidency

ByHindustan Times
Jun 20, 2023 11:52 AM IST

This article is authored by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House and former High Commissioner to Kenya and South Africa.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s letter last week to G20 leaders proposing that the African Union (AU) be invited to join G20 as a member is a shot in the arm for the AU’s campaign. It has boosted the morale of African leaders and friends of Africa around the world. The effort gains momentum just weeks before the G20 summit. Will the AU be elevated from its present status of a guest to a full member at the Delhi Summit?

India's foreign minister S Jaishankar, South Africa's foreign minister Naledi Pandor and Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Cape Town on June 1 (REUTERS)
India's foreign minister S Jaishankar, South Africa's foreign minister Naledi Pandor and Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Cape Town on June 1 (REUTERS)

A clinical look at the present state of play offers some insight.

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For several years, African governments and the AU, the pan-African grouping of 55 member-States, have been striving to achieve this goal. A major milestone was crossed in February 2023 when the AU Summit adopted a formal decision to be part of the G20 after considering a report by Macky Sall, President of Senegal and the then AU chairperson. The summit reaffirmed “the need for Africa to be more fully involved in the decision-making processes” on global governance issues because they affect Africa as much as the rest of the world.

Striking a realistic and clever note, the AU expressed “deep appreciation” of those G20 members that supported AU’s entry, and it called on “all other G20 members to support such a bid.” Soon thereafter, President Sall wrote to G20 leaders. PM Modi’s recent communication confirmed India's whole-hearted support of the AU’s eminently reasonable request.

Here’s how the support for AU entry into the G20 stacks up: Of all G20 members, say African sources, 13 expressed public support for the AU – the United States, China, Russia, India, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, and the European Union. The list of 7 countries that are either opposed or fence-sitters is important: Australia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Türkiye.

The case for and against the AU becoming a full-fledged member of G20 has long been debated among officials and scholars. Those in favour maintain that the AU’s entry will make the G20 more representative, inclusive, and, therefore, more influential. Instead of representing only 65% of the world population, it will then speak for about 80% of the planet’s people. This will enhance the group’s moral credibility, advancing the cause of fairness and justice. As Development Reimagined, a women-led African consultancy, pointed out recently, “The G20 needs AU for two reasons: Enhance African representation and AU’s contribution to economic growth.”

On a visit to Africa in January 2023, Janet Yellen, US treasury secretary, observed that African communities are “disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of global challenges. Any serious solution requires African leadership and voices.” That is the reason why the US (and other nations) support the AU. “African countries firmly belong at the table.”

The advantages to Africa are obvious. As the world’s premier forum on international economic and other cooperation, the G20 has been deeply involved in shaping solutions to global challenges such as economic growth, the climate crisis, energy transition, sustainable development, debt burdens, women empowerment, and the digital economy. With a seat at the main G20 table, Africa will, at last, have a direct say in all deliberations and decisions. The AU has already made it clear that it will be represented by its current chairperson who will be assisted by the chairperson of the AU Commission.

Those silent on or opposed to the AU’s admission may have been caught up in a web of self-created fears. First, ‘the purists’ among them may apprehend that Africa's entry would open the floodgates of G20’s expansion, thus reducing its effectiveness. Second, a few nations belonging to East Asia, West Asia, and Latin America may want a similar status for their regional groupings. Third, some scholars have wondered – patronisingly – if Africa has the capability to ensure its “meaningful participation” in the G20. Fourth, those opposing the concept of ‘reformed multilateralism’ may be concerned that the AU’s entry could set a bad precedent globally.

These are unjustified arguments to maintain the status quo. Their proponents appear oblivious to Africa's economic potential, mineral wealth, expanding demography, growing economic integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and increasing influence in world affairs.

As Africanists say, ‘It’s time for Africa!’ Its arrival can be delayed but cannot be prevented.

Some critics feel that the Indian presidency has lost valuable time in proposing Africa’s invitation to the G20. India has spent time laying the groundwork for this moment. Now New Delhi should step up its diplomatic game by using diverse tools available in its armoury. For instance, ambassadors of the non-committed nations should be invited for frank conversations. Second, PM Modi should be advised to send a special envoy to a few select capitals and persuade a sign-on. Third, his powerful telephone diplomacy can also be deployed, where needed. Finally, if one or two governments are still reluctant when the summit opens on September 9, the collective will of G20 should assert itself to produce a consensus formulation supporting the AU’s request.

It is appropriate that Africa be brought in as a member of the G20 during the Indian presidency. Why leave any stone unturned to secure a goal that will benefit humankind?

Those loyal to the name and brand recognition of G20 need to have no apprehension. The nomenclature can remain unchanged. There is a strong precedent: Even with 134 developing countries in it, the G77 did not change its name.

This article is authored by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House and former High Commissioner to Kenya and South Africa.

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