Financial Express, May 04, 2023

By Pradeep S Mehta and Misiani Mwencha

Whether the African Union (AU) will be invited to merely participate in the G20 summit that is happening amid global turmoil, or to join as a member remains a big question. India is definitely committed to strengthening its relationship with Africa and the latter’s involvement in the G20 process. This is also supported by civil society and business in India and Africa. Therefore, it is important to see how the international community can assure Africa of its commitment towards the latter’s interests in these difficult times. India’s G20 Presidency offers an opportunity to make the forum truly representative by helping realise the AU’s desire of permanent membership.

The AU, at its 2013 summit, adopted Agenda 2063—a blueprint for the long-term transformation of the continent. Notable steps have been taken to institutionalise collective action and representation in certain areas. AU platforms like the AU Committee for Climate Change are pursuing common goals in specific domains, which will have a bearing on Africa’s interests. The AU is also working on implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, to create a single market in the continent. AfCFTA entered into force in May 2019, and 46 of the 54 signatory countries have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Africa’s vulnerability during globally disruptive events like the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Ukraine war has been laid bare. As observed in the last three years, Africa has been disproportionately impacted by these events. The existing international order failed to address this disparity, and its frailty will stand exposed if a similar disruption occurs in the future. While such crises are accentuated quickly in the continent, the share of assistance to have come from within Africa is relatively low. It is a reflection of two of the structural inequities which characterise the continent. First, the impact of crises is more acute in Africa when compared globally, which means that the scale and urgency of assistance required are much higher. Second, the capacity of actors within Africa is limited in the backdrop of the gigantic requirements. No African country figures in the list of the World’s 25 largest economies (measured by GDP).

There is some way to go before Africa becomes a leading voice on global issues. Though the AU has been pushing to be a more active participant in the international fora, its ability to influence global outcomes remains limited. Regional groupings, which have had an imprint on global affairs, have done so while being driven by the individual strength of a few countries. Hence, it is critical for individual countries to grow into actors of global relevance. For the AU to have an influence on matters of global concern, it is important for countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya to focus on sustainable growth of their economies and invest in strategic partnerships. Herein, India could play a vital role. In addition to its outreach to Africa as a whole, India must raise the level of bilateral engagements with the aforementioned countries.

Investing political capital in bilateral partnerships with key states will help India in its pursuit of deeper engagements in Africa. India and Egypt elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership earlier this year. Under this framework, the two countries agreed to raise the level of bilateral cooperation across four pillars—political & security matters, trade and economics, cultural affairs and scientific and academic partnerships. While South Africa is a permanent G20 member, Egypt and Nigeria are also among countries that have been invited by India during its ongoing G20 presidency.

Right from the outset, India has maintained that its G20 presidency will accommodate concerns of the Global South to steer an agenda that is inclusive, impactful and action-oriented. The AU, which has representation of 55 countries and makes up 20% of the world’s population, must be accorded a permanent place in major multilateral fora. While India has extended an invitation to the AU chair among other international invitees, the time has come to revamp the G20’s structure to make it truly representative. India, in its role as the G20 chair, must support the AU’s efforts to become a permanent member of the G20 as the European Union (EU) is. While participation of individual invitee states from Africa is welcome, the AU’s permanent presence would give a fillip to G20’s core understanding of concerns of the Global South. These first-hand insights that AU can bring will enable platforms like the G20 to incorporate appropriate policy inputs.

The idea of the AU’s G20 membership is also attracting global attention. US president Joe Biden called on the G20 to include the AU as a permanent member on the sidelines of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in December 2022. China too has supported the idea of the AU’s bid to join the G20 at various platforms—including at the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, in November 2022. As calls for the AU’s increased participation grow louder, India must take the lead and integrate the AU in global decision-making processes by steering the latter’s permanent G20 membership.

Writers are respectively secretary general, CUTS International, and board member, CUTS Centre for Trade, Economics and Environment, Nairobi

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