African Union in G-20: Possible Outcomes for India

 By Namita Barthwal
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Abstract

On 9 September 2023, members of G-20 unanimously accepted India’s proposal of converting the African Union’s permanent guest status to permanent membership. The efforts of India to provide an important space in the inter-governmental system were appreciated by the President of the African Union. In this short commentary, the author culls out the possible outcomes of the African Union in G-20 for India.

Keywords: G-20, India-Africa Relations, African Union, Global South, China

Introduction

On 9 September 2023, at the 18th edition of the G-20 Summit, the African Union (AU) – a union of 55 African States, was officially declared as a permanent member of the inter-governmental group that makes decisions which are essential for a rule-based multi-lateral economic and financial system that are more equitable to developing countries. With this, the AU became the second regional grouping, the first being the European Union (EU), to enter the G-20, which includes leading world economies. The official wordings of the G-20 declaration, announced in India’s G-20 Presidency, acknowledges Africa’s role in the world’s economy with a GDP of 3 trillion USD. The declaration has committed to supporting the AU to realise the aspirations under Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which is transforming itself into a global powerhouse through industrialisation. (G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, 2023). Before this, AU was part of 12 permanent guests of the G-20.[i]

In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded that India’s Presidency of G-20 embodies the idea of inclusivity both domestically and internationally reflecting the mantra of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas’. In keeping with the spirit of inclusivity, India proposed accession to AU. (MEA, 2023). It is important to highlight that earlier during the presidency, one of the first things that India did was to hold the ‘Voice of Global South’ Summit, in which the idea of including AU as a permanent member was germinated. (Roy, 2023) The membership given to AU has made the G-20 more representative.

With full G-20 membership, AU gains the opportunity to influence G-20 commitments and focus on key priorities like conflict resolution, development, debt restructuring, reforming the global financial system, and securing funding for climate-related issues. (Puri, 2023) However, the effectiveness of the AU will depend on its ability to unite African countries, similar to the cohesion seen in European nations in the form of the EU. To achieve this, the AU will require a robust AU commission to align the diverse positions of African countries as 33 out of 54 States are in the category of Least Developed Countries. (UNCTAD, n.d.)

Since the 1980s, Africa has faced political violence which has ensured a ‘lost decade’ of low growth. Therefore, strengthening the unity of Africa’s voice in international forums becomes crucial to accelerate the integration of the African continent, as it is one of the richest continents in terms of agricultural land, minerals, metals, and human resources.

In 2021, the average debt-to-GDP ratio in Africa exceeded 70 per cent. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the debt crisis in Africa, because of the decline in tax revenues, exports, and the diversion of spending on public health. There is a need for reforms vis-à-vis debts within the AU because over-reliance on creditors remains a challenge that looms into a consequential debt crisis. (Canuto et al., 2023)

Possible Outcomes for India  

  • Diplomatic Achievement. The inclusion of the AU in the G-20 is a significant diplomatic achievement for India as it has successfully pitched itself as the leader of the Global South. This is a diplomatic milestone because the proposal by India did not receive opposition from any permanent member. Instead, some G-20 leaders, including the US, France and China, welcomed and backed it. Apart from this, India also brought in the views and concerns of 120 countries of the Global South that have suffered economically from the Russia-Ukraine War and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Enhance Relations with the AU. In the last few years, India has given more diplomatic attention to African States. 18 new embassies have opened in the African continent since 2018. (MEA, 2022) The support and integrity India has shown in pushing AU’s bid for permanent membership has received a positive response from the leaders of AU. Azali Assoumani, the President of AU, praised the efforts of Indian leadership that ensured the smooth inclusion of the organisation. India’s efforts in offering African countries a platform to represent their economic interests at a global level might get translated into trust, which will improve economic, strategic, and diplomatic relations between India and African States.
  • Garnered Support for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The permanent membership of the AU is also in sync with India’s aspiration for permanent membership in the UNSC, for which New Delhi is keen to garner support from the AU, which has 55 votes. (Roy, 2023)
  • Countering the influence of China in Africa. China is the leading trade partner of Africa and is the fourth largest investment contributor. In 2022, the trade between Africa and China reached 282 billion USD, while the trade between India and Africa amounted to 98 billion USD in the 2022-23 fiscal year (Godbole, 2023). However, China has been accused of debt-trap diplomacy to gain influence on Africa’s strategic assets, such as ports and infrastructure. Some States see China’s dominance in the African region as neo-colonialism – which has been interpreted as the diminution of African states’ sovereignty through asymmetric economic relations and inequitable trade and investment. (Chan, 2018) Through platforms like G-20 India intends to offer an alternative to the African States.

 

Conclusion

The theme of inclusivity has emerged successfully in the G-20 Summit under India’s presidency. From now on, the group will represent 85 per cent of the world’s population with 88 per cent of the world’s GDP.  The affirmative declaration released on 9 September 2023 shows that India has tremendous potential as a soft power which it must leverage to counter China’s economic influence. Moreover, India championing the inclusion of the AU in the G-20 is a sign that New Delhi is asserting its leadership in the Global South with a sense of idealism.

The expansion of the G-20, with the addition of AU, will also improve its policies’ implementation. Further, as African States are becoming more vocal in the world’s platforms and aiming at matured industrialisation by 2063, watching how India and AU’s relations unfold from now on will be interesting.

 

References

Canuto, O., Dinh, H. T., Aynaoui, K. E., Ghanem, H., & Mandri, B. (2023, June). External Debt Management in Africa: A Proposal for a ‘Debt Relief for Climate Initiative’. Think20. Retrieved on September 14, 2023, from https://t20ind.org/research/external-debt-management-in-africa/#_edn3

Chan, M.M. Edel Wan Yan (2018, December 2). China in Africa: A Form of Neo-Colonialism?. E-IR. Retrieved on September 11, 2023, from https://www.e-ir.info/2018/12/02/china-in-africa-a-form-of-neo-colonialism/

MEA (2023, September 9). English translation of Prime Minister’s opening remarks at the G20 Summit [Press Release]. Retrieved on September 11, 2023, from https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/37082/English_translation_of_Prime_Ministers_opening_remarks_at_the_G20_Summit

MEA, (2022, May 17). Address by External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar at the Launch of Book: India-Africa Relations: Changing Horizons [Press Release]. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/35322/

G-20, G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. (2023, September 9). Retrieved on September 11, 2023, from G20.org: https://www.g20.org/content/dam/gtwenty/gtwenty_new/document/G20-New-Delhi-Leaders-Declaration.pdf

Godbole, T. (2023, September 09). AU to join G-20 as India boosts Global South. DW. Retrieved on September 10, 2023, from https://www.dw.com/en/au-gets-its-due-as-india-boosts-global-south-at-g20/a-66767522

Puri, L. (2023, September 13). African Union and the G-20: Africa on the high table. The Indian Express. Retrieved September 13, 2023, from https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/african-union-and-the-g20-africa-on-the-high-table-8937124/

Roy, S. (2023, September 9). African Union in G-20: How India successfully pushed engagement with AU nations and amplified Global South’s voice.  The Indian Express. Retrieved on September 10, 2023, from https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-global/african-union-au-g20-8931766/

UNCTAD, UN list of least developed countries. (n.d.). Retrieved on September 14, 2023, from  https://unctad.org/topic/least-developed-countries/list

End Notes

[i] Permanent guests include Spain, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the United Nations Organisation (UNO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB), as well as the countries holding the presidencies of the regional organisations such as ASEAN, and the development program- New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).