In a momentous recognition of Africa’s burgeoning influence on the global stage, the G20, a consortium of the world’s foremost economies, has extended an enduring membership invitation to the African Union (AU). This historic gesture carries profound implications, representing Africa’s aspirations for a more prominent role in international affairs, with its 50-plus nations united under a common banner. The eagerness with which U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed the AU’s permanent G20 membership underscores the significance of this step. Senegal’s President Macky Sall, the former AU chair, celebrated this milestone, emphasizing its importance for the entire African continent. After seven years of tireless advocacy by the AU, South Africa no longer stands as the sole African representative in the G20. This elevation of the AU’s status holds great promise for Africa, a continent poised to witness its youthful population of 1.3 billion double by 2050, constituting a quarter of the global populace.
The African Union’s Quest for Global Prominence
The African Union’s journey to secure permanent membership in the G20 marks a paradigm shift in international relations. For years, Africa’s 55 member states have sought meaningful roles within global institutions, challenging the post-World War II order that has long dominated international affairs. The AU has not only advocated for its inclusion in the G20 but has also called for reforms in the global financial system, which has disproportionately burdened African nations with higher borrowing costs, exacerbating their debt challenges. Africa’s commitment to reshaping the global landscape extends beyond traditional Western powers. In recent times, global players, including China, Russia, Gulf nations, Turkey, Israel, and Iran, have intensified their engagement with African nations, fostering both economic and political ties. In this evolving landscape, African leaders are increasingly positioning themselves as global brokers rather than passive recipients of external influence, as exemplified by their mediation efforts following Ukraine war. The AU’s membership in the G20 stands as a testament to Africa’s emergence as a global power, demanding its place at the table of international decision-making.
Africa’s Wealth and Global Impact
Africa’s newfound status as a full-fledged member of the G20 brings to the fore a continent with vast resources and a pivotal role in addressing global challenges. Notably, Africa boasts the world’s largest free trade area, making it a vital player in the global economic landscape. Beyond its economic prowess, Africa is rich in resources crucial for combatting climate change, despite contributing the least to this pressing global issue. The continent is home to 60% of the world’s renewable energy assets, offering immense potential for sustainable development. Moreover, Africa possesses over 30% of the minerals essential for renewable and low-carbon technologies, including cobalt, a critical component of lithium-ion batteries. The Democratic Republic of Congo alone holds nearly half of the world’s cobalt reserves, highlighting Africa’s strategic importance in the transition to clean energy.
Leveraging Natural Wealth for Local Development
African leaders are keenly aware of the value of their natural resources and are determined to leverage them for the benefit of their economies and citizens. One of the prevailing concerns is the longstanding practice of outsiders extracting Africa’s resources for processing and profits elsewhere. African nations are increasingly advocating for more localized industrial development to ensure that the wealth generated from these resources directly contributes to their economic growth and social development. This drive for equitable resource utilization was prominently featured at the first Africa Climate Summit. The summit concluded with resounding calls for fairer treatment by financial institutions, the fulfillment of rich countries’ climate financing commitments, and the implementation of a global fossil fuel tax to address environmental concerns.
Challenges and the Imperative for Unity
While Africa’s aspirations on the global stage are resolute, articulating a unified stance among its diverse member states remains a challenge. Economic disparities, varying priorities, and the AU’s annually rotating chairmanship hinder consistency in Africa’s diplomatic efforts. However, the imperative for Africa to present a united front within the G20 is widely recognized. As former Prime Minister Ibrahim Assane Mayaki of Niger and former IMF Executive Director Daouda Sembene underscored in Project Syndicate, Africa must “speak with one voice” if it hopes to wield meaningful influence in G20 decision-making. This capacity for collective action was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic when African nations jointly criticized the hoarding of vaccines by wealthier countries and collaborated on bulk procurement of supplies.
Now, as a G20 member, Africa’s demands will resonate more effectively, ensuring that its voice is no longer relegated to the periphery of global affairs. Africa’s ascent to the G20 represents a moral, economic, strategic, political, and diplomatic boost for the nations within the African Union, reaffirming their importance on the world stage. As the African Union takes its seat at the G20 table, the continent’s leaders stand poised to shape the global agenda, harness their considerable resources for sustainable development, and champion the pressing issues of our time.
– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).
Published in Modern Ghana [Link]