One of the focal points of attention at the G-20 Summit in New Delhi is India’s proposal of membership to the African Union (AU) in this body. This move is part of India's focus on the Global South during its presidency of the G20. India has been trying its best to get widespread support from member states to convert this proposal into a reality at the New Delhi summit.
The Group of 20 brings the world’s leading economies together; it represents 85 percent of the Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 65 percent of the world population, and 75 percent of the global trade. The inclusion of the African Union comprising 55 countries and 1.37 billion people, will make the group more inclusive and representative.
It is not the first time that the group has focused on Africa. Issues related to Africa’s development have been part of the G20 deliberations for a long time. It was at the Toronto Summit of 2020 that the African Union received an invitation to participate in the deliberations.
There, the G20 group affirmed its support for concessional lending to the African Development Bank despite the global financial crisis. The Seoul summit carried the Africa agenda forward with support towards African regional integration. The ‘Seoul Consensus on Development’ was also focused on Africa’s developmental needs.
The Cannes Summit in 2011 expressed support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiatives on food security in the region. The summit also called for setting up a High-Level Panel to support Infrastructure projects in Africa. Subsequently, the 2015 summit in Turkey adopted the G20 Energy Access Action Plan.
African issues were also raised during the Hangzhou Summit in 2016. The communique proposed a plan for industrialization of developing countries particularly those in Africa. A major move towards Africa came during the 2017 Hamburg Summit where the ‘Compact with Africa’ (CwA) programme was launched. It aimed to enhance private sector finance for infrastructure development in African countries; it also created an Africa Advisory Group for leading the CwA.
The 2019 Osaka summit focused on the development of quality infrastructure, innovation, digitization, and addressing the iniquities of global finance. A reference was made to Africa during the discussion of each issue. Japan also hosted the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), its main forum summit related to Africa during its G20 presidency. This underlined the G20 focus on Africa.
The issue of AU membership in the G20 was raised by leaders of African countries for the first time during the Indonesian presidency of G20 in 2022. Currently, South Africa is the only member state of the AU within the organisation. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa called for an early membership of AU to G20. However, the proposal was not tabled formally in the summit process. The President of Senegal, Macky Sall has also championed the cause during his tenure as the Chairperson of the African Union.
It was only during India’s presidency of G20 that the issue of AU's full membership of the G20 group picked up speed. India is striving for a more inclusive and equitable global order during its presidency.
The theme of India’s Presidency Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, One Earth, One World, One Future, guides India’s diplomacy with the world.
Early in its presidency, India organised the virtual ‘Voice of Global South Summit’ in January 2023 under the theme ‘Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose’. The aim of this summit was to consult those countries that are not represented in the G20. India also strived to understand the perspectives and views on common challenges and aspirations of the Global South, particularly those from the African region.
As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his inaugural address “As far as India is concerned, your voice is India’s voice. Your priorities are India’s priorities.” In June 2023, Prime Minister Modi wrote to the G20 leaders pushing for a full membership of the African Union. The proposal was subsequently included formally during the G20 Sherpa’s meeting in July 2023. In recent years, the AU has made significant progress in integrating the countries across the continent and representing their aspirations globally.
Economically, it has helped in developing policies that crystalised the adoption of the pathbreaking, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCtA). Politically, the African Union has been promoting the mantra of finding “African solutions for African problems.” It has also pushed for the inclusion of African voices on global concerns, such as the response to the COVID pandemic, reducing debt, inequity, unequal representation, etc.
The African countries have been for long calling for greater African representation in the multilateral organizations. India has over the years supported the African call for a position on the high table. Of course, there are mutual benefits to the African Union’s full membership of G20. African countries face huge developmental challenges.
The G-20 membership provides the African Union an immense opportunity for African countries to face these challenges. Some argue that, unlike the EU, AU is not an efficient organization nor does it have a common currency, etc. However, despite these challenges, India’s call for African Union membership recognizes African countries as equal partners in the multilateral sphere. At the same time, there is no doubt that the G20 countries also need the support of the African countries. The continent is a hub of critical minerals needed for technological development and clean energy.
Undoubtedly, India has used its diplomatic capital to push for the African Union’s place in the G20’s decision-making process. Several members of the G20 have expressed support for AU's membership. They include the US, UK, France, China, Germany, Indonesia, and Japan, amongst others. Prime Minister Modi has reiterated time and again that Africa is a top priority for India.
It is hoped that India will be able to secure a consensus for the entry of AU as a full member of G20. This step would give due recognition to a resurgent Africa and enhance the voice of the developing countries on the global stage.
The author is Consultant, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi