Economic Times, July 01, 2024

The African Union Commission and not just India should find ways and means to integrate the African continent into the G20 and other global governance systems. This view was expressed by Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, while speaking at a high-level roundtable titled “Mainstreaming the African Union into the G20”, organised by CUTS International and leading think tank Vivekananda International Foundation.

This hybrid event gathered leading experts, policymakers, stakeholders and diplomats from the African continent and G20 member states to discuss actionable steps for Africa’s active role in the G20.

A historic milestone was reached as the African Union (AU) became a full member of the Group of Twenty (G20) under India’s presidency in September 2023

This marked a significant step forward for Africa’s involvement in global economic discussions and offered new opportunities for the continent to shape policies that drive sustainable development and economic growth.

The G20, which encompasses the world’s major economies and represents around 80% of global GDP, is a vital forum for international cooperation and policy-making.

In the 2023 G20 leaders’ declaration, India welcomed the African Union as a permanent member with open arms, expressing strong confidence in the AU’s ability to tackle global challenges.

India’s statement highlighted the collective efforts of G20 members in bringing the AU on board and reiterated its commitment to closer ties with Africa, supporting the vision set out in Agenda 2063.

India also reaffirmed its support for Africa through initiatives like the G20 Compact with Africa, the G20 Initiative on supporting industrialisation in Africa and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and the B20 India’s Council on Africa’s Economic Integration calling for deeper collaboration between the G20 and African countries.

The roundtable comprised Puneet R. Kundal, Additional Secretary (Eastern & Southern Africa) Ministry of External Affairs, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, Ambassador Anil Sooklal, South Africa’s Ambassador at Large for BRICS and Asia, Halima Noor Abdi, Sr Adviser, AfCFTA, and former Indian Ambassadors Gurjit Singh, Rajiv Bhatia, and Anil Trigunayat.

Kundal stressed on India’s role in representing the Global South, saying, “There is no better voice of the Global South than India, as India aspires to be the ‘Vishwabandhu’ (Friend of the world) in this new world order.” He added, “We will not say that we will mainstream the African Union, but will facilitate, aid, and encourage the mainstreaming.”

In this context, Mehta quoted the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had called for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family.

Dr. Gupta highlighted the significance of the AU’s permanent membership in the G20: “One of the key takeaways from the G20 is the African Union becoming a permanent member.” He pointed out that the AU’s inclusion is a step towards a more inclusive global economic order.

Mehta also spoke about the progress the African Union is making, particularly with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). “The AfCFTA is pivotal in not only enhancing intra-African trade but also addressing broader economic issues,” he noted.

Ambassador Sooklal emphasised the need for the AU to clearly articulate its goals: “We need to be realistic as an African nation, where we need to articulate for ourselves what we want to achieve. The G20 needs to ensure peace and security where both players, North and South, need to stop interfering in Africa.” He stressed that the AU should be seen as an equal partner in the G20.

Ambassador Gurjit Singh cautioned against expecting handouts, underscoring the need for self-awareness and realistic expectations within the AU. “The world is an extremely transactional place; freebies cannot be expected. The African Union needs to be conscious of its own members’ perceptions towards each other.” He also touched on the influence of external powers on the AU, particularly China’s influence, which could affect the AU’s independence.

The seminar underscored the need for strategic alignment, capacity building, and stronger collaboration among AU members to present a unified stance on key issues such as sustainable development, climate action, trade, food security, health, regional integration, and connectivity.

Panelists stressed the importance of equipping the AU secretariat and country representatives with the knowledge and strategies needed to effectively navigate G20 processes, ensuring that Africa’s unique challenges and opportunities are adequately addressed in global economic policies.

Kwame Owino, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya, called for strengthening global multilateralism, public infrastructure, and financial institutions to encourage active participation from first-world countries.

Owino said, “Strengthening global multilateralism, public infrastructure, and financial institutions is required in Africa to encourage first-world countries’ active participation.”

“Africa should not just be a taker but also a giver and a significant contributor in due course. We need to represent ourselves as a united front despite our differences,” said Dode Seidu, Chief Executive of the Africa Trade Academy in Accra, Ghana. He also emphasised the need for Africa to enhance its consensus-building power.

Dr. Mustafa Taher Ali Saasa, Chairman of the Raj Group of Companies, UAE & Rwanda, highlighted Africa’s transformation driven by political will, while Vera Thorstensen from the School of Economics in São Paulo, Brazil, stressed the importance of ensuring that digital advancements benefit everyone, particularly women.

Dr. Ruchita Beri, Africa specialist, pointed out that Africa’s rich natural resources, youthful population, and emerging economies provide significant leverage for global engagement.

The event highlighted the critical role of the African Union’s integration into the G20 and emphasised the need for a coordinated and strategic approach to ensure Africa’s voice is effectively heard in global economic discussions.

By leveraging its unique position and critical mineral resources, Africa can play a crucial role in shaping global economic policies that foster sustainable development and economic growth across the continent. Brazil as the current G20 President is also expected to contribute to African economic growth.

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