India's G20 presidency: A priority to engage Africa
To amplify the voice of the Global South, India has pitched for making African Union a permanent member of the G20 and if a proposal to this regard is accepted during the group’s summit in New Delhi, this will lead to making it become more inclusive and representative
All eyes are now on New Delhi, which will host the G20 Leaders’ Summit on September 9-10, 2023. The leaders of Group of 20 (G20) representing the foremost economies of the world, will gather at India’s capital to discuss various issues, such as, inclusive growth, climate action, digital innovation and woman-led development.
A key priority during India’s G20 presidency is to engage with the African continent. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that “Africa is a top priority for the G20, no future plan on earth can succeed without all voices being heard.” India is pushing for the African Union’s membership of the G20 group, making it more inclusive and representative of the world.
The G20 currently represents the world's 19 major economies and a regional group, the European Union. India has sent a proposal to all G20 members to include the African Union as a permanent member.
The African Union represents 55 countries, 1.37 billion people, a combined Gross Domestic Product of $ 3.1 trillion and 10 percent of the global economy.
Why does Africa matter?
Africa, often termed as the “continent of hope” by late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa matters a lot in the global economy. There are five factors that define Africa’s growing importance.
First, Africa has 65 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land. Hence the continent has the power to shape the future of global food security.
Second, the continent has the highest population of the youth in the world, making it an important source of human resources and skills for global industry and services.
Third, it is also well known that the region contains 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves. Some of these minerals are pivotal for renewable energy development and a global low carbon future.
Fourth, Africa has some of the fastest growing economies of the world. Finally, one of the innovative initiatives launched by the African Union is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA).
The AfCtA is the largest free area in the world and it brings tremendous opportunities for African economies. It also sends a positive message of cooperation and collaboration across the world.
India’s G20 presidency
India’s G20 priorities are inclusive and they comprise of substantive issues, such as, green transition, inclusive and resilient growth, accelerating progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), technological transformation & digital public infrastructure, reforming multilateral institutions and women led development.
The priorities set by India during its G20 presidency find an echo in various development plans developed by the African Union in recent years. African Union’s Agenda 2063, a blueprint for Africa’s development highlights sustainable and inclusive growth, climate resilience, renewable energy, women and girl empowerment as key areas of focus.
In the last few years the African Union has evolved strategies related to digital transformation and just transition for the continent. Most importantly, the theme of India’s G20 presidency – ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or One Earth One World and One Family relates very well with the African philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ i.e. 'I am because we are'.
India has sought to make its G20 presidency a voice of the Global South. India hosted the Voice of Global South virtual summit January 2023. Global South refers to developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
There is no doubt Africa is the heart of the Global South. As India took over the G20 presidency it was aware that most of the countries from the Global South were not represented at this exclusive forum.
It was equally conscious of the fact that the main focus of the G20 is to promote global economic growth and that task would be incomplete without understanding the concerns of the Global South.
The recent developments like the COVID pandemic, Ukraine conflict, unsustainable debt, contracting financial flows have added to the problems of the developing countries, particularly those from Africa. Around 47 countries from Africa participated in the Voice of Global South summit.
In recent years, India has made strengthening relations with Africa a top priority in foreign and economic policy. The increased number of high-level visits to African countries showcase India’s growing interest in Africa.
It has also championed greater representation of African countries in the multilateral arena, the reformed UNSC and the G20.
During India‘s presidency of the G20, participation from Africa is the highest for the leaders’ summit and includes South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius, Egypt, AU Chair, Comoros and African Union Development Agency (AUDA)-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
At the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for permanent membership of the African Union in this premier forum.
In June 2023, he wrote to the G20 leaders advocating a full membership to the African Union during the upcoming New Delhi summit. His proposal has got support from various world leaders and members of the forum.
President Joe Biden of the United States has expressed his support for AU membership, stating: “Africa belongs to the table in every room…every institution.” French leader Emmanuel Macron is also in favour of full integration of the AU into the G20.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has lobbied for the proposal for a long time. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has also endorsed the call for AU full membership along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. More importantly, earlier in the year during the 35th AU summit, the organisation announced its bid for G20 membership.
The G20 focus on Africa comes at a time when major powers including China have been increasing their engagement with the continent.
The recently concluded the 3rd edition of China-Africa Peace and Security Forum at Beijing where 100 delegates from 50 African countries participated reiterates China’s growing connection with the region.
At the same time the recent military coup in Niger reflects the enhanced contestation between EU, the US and Russia in the troubled Sahel region. India has been engaging African countries for a long time.
The growing economic cooperation, large participation by African countries in events, such as, the CII-EXIM Bank India-Africa Conclave on Growth Partnership and the 2nd India-Africa Defence Dialogue at Gandhinagar on the sidelines of Defence Expo indicates the mutual interest.
India’s championing of AU full membership of the G20 underlines its status as a key player in maintaining the multilateral system. It also highlights India’s efforts in supporting African agency and voice in the multilateral arena.
*** The writer is a Consultant with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi; views expressed here are her own