By: Brock Dodds Edited By: Ashlyn Bi October 30, 2023
Every year, the 20 largest economies in the world, known as the Group of 20 or G20, gather for a summit to discuss pressing issues ranging from economic development to climate change. 2023’s summit is particularly significant. How 2023’s G20 summit will initially come to mind when remembered in the years to come will likely depend on who you ask—it is historic for multiple reasons. At the forefront of G20 coverage was the location: India, for the first time, hosted G20 leaders and their staff in New Delhi. This is a fitting development for India, as it represents the growing recognition of India as a regional and global power. However, there is a more significant development coming out of this event that has been overshadowed by the discussion around India. A moment of historical significance arose when we retrospectively examined the 2023 G20 summit: the African Union's accession to membership.
The African Union is not new to proximity with the G20. Before the 2023 move, the AU was considered an “invited international organization”. Now, the AU is a permanent member. The African Union consists of 55 member African states, which means it represents a sweeping spectrum of individual interests yet also represents many common goals of the member states. The history of colonization and persistent neo-colonialism on the continent creates shared interests and problems that will drive the African Union’s decisions at the G20 table. However, this is not the first time Africa has had a member of the G20. South Africa is the only other African member, having been one since the G20 inception in 1999. This representation was inadequate for Africa. Not only is Africa such a diverse and massive continent with a wide variety of interests, but South Africa, in particular, is not as representative of the continent as a whole, with the legacies of apartheid still persistent in governance and social relations (which therefore subtly affects international diplomacy).
The African Union did not join the G20 frivolously. Instead, it was a move with a concrete rationale behind it. In recent years, the African Union has been gaining more and more power and respect across Africa and the world. For example, the AU successfully brokered a peace deal between the People’s Liberation Front and the government of Ethiopia. The AU has also created the world’s largest free-trade zone (in terms of population and geographic area) and has led a successful continental vaccine access program. Thus, the African Union should not be considered an upstart organization or ineffective. The ascent to the G20 is a natural step after decades of the AU increasing its ability to project power and execute policy. The article will comprehensively delve into the implications of AU membership later. Yet, understanding the anticipated consequences to comprehend the rationale behind the AU G20 inclusion is crucial. The African Union’s G20 membership is most similar to the EU membership as they are the only two international organizations given membership. By joining the G20, the African Union is not merely attaining equal footing with the European Union in terms of influence in G20 matters; it also communicates the powerful message that Africa is just as united and influential as Europe. It signifies an important milestone in Africa’s recovery from colonialism. On the G20 side of the coin, the AU membership allows the G20 to court a great deal of the increasingly important Global South. The Global South is a term referring to still-developing states with a history of colonization by other powers. Both the Western G20 members and non-Western members like Russia and China have increasingly recognized how the Global South is integral to their geopolitical and economic interests (take China’s Belt and Road initiative, for example). The G20 now has an established diplomatic inroad with many countries in the Global South, making the membership beneficial for them as well. The increasing legitimacy and power of the African Union and mutual benefit for all parties means that this membership in the G20 should seem quite natural and perhaps even inevitable.
The implications of the AU membership are significant for the member countries within the African Union, for the continent of Africa, and for global geopolitics and diplomatic relations. First and most conspicuously is the fact that the AU’s membership will allow the 55 African countries it represents to begin to play significant roles in regional and global geopolitics and economics. By having full-fledged membership, the AU actualizes the interests of the states it represents into a unified diplomatic strategy. At the very least, these states will be able to have a voice on the global stage. However, probably, Africa is not just speaking without purpose. As mentioned earlier, the world's biggest economies have real, though self-interested, reasons to genuinely think about what Africa wants and needs. No matter how it happens, it's clear that African countries will have more significant roles in global politics and economics.. Besides this concrete implication, the AU membership is a symbolic victory and milestone in the modern history of Africa. It signifies a comprehensive culmination of the de-colonialism that began in the 1960s and continues today. It is a significant development in the story of throwing off colonial shackles, suggesting that the 55 AU countries are coming into their own as independent states and global actors that make their own decisions. It is, however, pivotal to remember that Africa is still experiencing “neocolonialism” and that the AU joining the G20 may allow Africa to push back against it. The G20 gives the AU a platform to raise grievances and objections, and solidifies the legitimacy of African nations as international actors. Neocolonialism refers to current predatory or manipulative investment, donation, aid, and legal practices by a powerful state or organization to gain influence and power over another state. Often occurring in African countries, China uses infrastructure projects to influence the foreign and domestic policies of African countries. Western organizations frequently structure investment and aid so that the investing countries can drain disproportionate resources from the host country. The resource drain experienced by the Global South due to neocolonial practices is massive, most of which occurs in Africa. By being on equal footing with the European Union and the world’s most powerful states, the African Union now has a platform to defend its members against neocolonial practices and call them out on the world stage. Therefore, the AU’s G20 membership will hopefully be the first step to pushing back on neo-colonial practices across the African continent. The African Union also builds respect and influence within its borders and continent by being a G20 member. Member states see the organization as more legitimate and capable if it can deliver results and diplomatic engagement on the international level. Being on equal footing with the EU gives member states more confidence that the African Union can effectively advocate for them, not just to settle intra-organizational disputes but to give them a degree of influence on the world stage. This is undeniably a good thing for Africa, as those effective initiatives and programs mentioned earlier such as negotiating peace become more beneficial when members view the AU as legitimate and capable.
The implications of the African Union’s G20 membership remain hidden, but what is certain is that they will be significant. The 2023 G20 will go down in history as the summit where countries and entities from the Global South, once subjected to colonization, bravely began to assert their influence in a manner akin to the Western powers.
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