G20: African Union’s relations with global players


The African Union has taken up more formidable challenges by joining the Group of Twenty (G20) in September 2023. It has struggled down the years to develop, since its creation, into a dynamic continental union with a resemblance to the European Union. Recent developments in global ‘great power’ politics have come with complex challenges and opportunities for the African continent. Nevertheless, the AU views the emerging multipolar world as an opportunity to move up with its unified voice on pertinent issues onto a global stage.

At the far end of its 18th summit, the African Union (AU) was finally granted the same status as the European Union (EU) at G20. This will strengthen the G20 and also strengthen the voice of the Global South. It is based on the group’s collective consensus and incorporated into the final declaration, which marks a new chapter for formulating new thinking and building confidence with G20 members.

Within the emerging new world order’s framework, the G20 Delhi declaration’s language was neutrally positive – the most significant outcome remaining inclusion of the African Union into the bloc. The summit declaration was termed “people-centric, action-oriented and far-sighted” – reflecting a “shared path for all” that ensures countries of the Global South are not left behind.

The G20 declaration noted that inclusion of the African Union into the G20 will significantly contribute to addressing global challenges. “Africa plays an important role in the global economy. We commit to strengthening our ties with and support for the African Union to realise the aspirations under Agenda 2063. We also reiterate strong support to Africa, including through the G20 Compact with Africa and G20 Initiative on supporting industrialisation in Africa and LDCs. We are supportive of further discussing the deepening of cooperation between the G20 and other regional partners,” it read.

The step of AU’s inclusion was a decade-long objective, a struggle to gain a position on the global stage. It was indeed one of the significant milestone gestures and biggest achievements in the G20’s history. Long before that, there were pleasant debates and discussions as no key global leader raised criticisms and/or fierce objections to the proposal that a permanent seat be given to the AU.

“Thanks to the hard work of our team and your support, a consensus has been reached on the declaration from the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in New Delhi,” Modi said when announcing the declaration’s adoption.

Current Chairman of the African Union, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, thanked PM Modi for his initiative and efforts in making the African Union a permanent member of the G20. He shared his particular pleasure that this had occurred during India’s G20 Presidency, considering India’s role and links with Africa. Assoumani and Modi, with almost the same message, highlighted India’s efforts to articulate the ‘Voice of Global South’, and recalled the ‘Voice of Global South Summit’ convened by India in January 2023.

According to reports, the G20 was first formed in the wake of a financial crisis that swept through Southeast Asian economies in the late 1990s, as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors; then it was upgraded in 2007 to include heads of state and governments.

During and after the 2008 global financial crisis, the G20’s coordinated efforts helped tamp down panic and restore economic growth. The grouping comprises 19 countries cutting across continents and the European Union, representing around 85% of the world’s GDP. The G20 also invites non-member countries, including Bangladesh, Singapore, Spain and Nigeria, besides international organisations such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In comparative assessments within the complex geopolitical context of the debate over multilateral organisations’ reforms – including those of the United Nations, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) unwavering future projections; and for the AU to set out its own critical role in strengthening strategic relations combined with mobilising both public and private external finance for Africa’s development.

It is an established fact that Africa is India’s fourth-largest trading partner. India exported US$40billion worth of goods to Africa, while importing US$49billion worth of goods from various African countries. India’s main exports to Africa are refined petroleum products and pharmaceuticals, while Africa exports crude oil, gold, coal and other minerals to India.

China is the topmost trading partner. More than 3,000 Chinese enterprises have invested deeply in Africa, of which over 70% are private companies says China’s state-owned Global Times. At the same time, China has been modernising the continent’s agricultural, manufacturing and services sectors; upgrading its manufacturing and processing techniques; and creating greater value-added – contributing significantly to the stability, development and prosperity of African countries.

According to the Policy Centre for the New South, China has twenty-five economic and trade cooperation zones which have been created in sixteen African countries. With such initiatives, the Chinese footprint in Africa has grown to approximately 12% of Africa’s industrial output – about US$500billion annually. As for the infrastructure sector, Chinese companies claim nearly 50% of Africa’s contracted construction market.

In Johannesburg’s 15th BRICS summit held in August, Xi Jinping said China will continue to support Africa in speaking with one voice on international affairs and continuously elevating its international standing. It has already assisted in the construction of several signature Pan-African projects, including the new AU Conference Centre and Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

In order to chart the course for practical cooperation in the next stage and partner with Africa to bring its integration and modernisation onto a fast track, on the sideline meeting with African leaders Xi Jinping made three concrete proposals which include: (i) China will launch the Initiative on Supporting Africa’s Industrialisation; (ii) China will launch the Plan for China Supporting Africa’s Agricultural Modernisation; and (iii) China will launch the Plan for China-Africa Cooperation on Talent Development.

The United States and a number of European nations, as G20 members, have competitively been investing in Africa. Of course, reports (White House, Briefing Report, June 2023) show that the United States has more than 800 two-way trade and investment deals across 47 African countries for a total estimated value of over US$18billion, and the U.S. private sector has investment deals in Africa valued at US$8.6billion. In fact, United States goods and services traded with Africa totalled US$83.6billion in 2021.

The European Union has pledged €150billion (US$170billion) for investment in Africa, as it seeks to gain influence on the continent and become its partner of choice. This compares with BRICS during its late July summit held in Johannesburg, when we further heard of the general perception among BRICS nations that global trade and economics are too much synchronised to the Western powers – organised and led by the United States.

From year to year, the BRICS members are increasing their potential. As already mentioned, the five partner-states – with a total population exceeding 3 billion – account for a greater share of global GDP than the so-called Group of Seven in terms of purchasing power parity. Over the past decade, the BRICS group has doubled their investment in the global economy; and their total exports have reached 20 percent of the global total, according to reports.

Over the past decades, G20 members such as the United States, Canada and the EU – with their unique geographic and economic conditions – have attracted African citizens’ Diaspora remittances which the World Bank and International Monetary Fund estimate at US$86billion; and supplements other finance sources for SMEs and women-owned businesses across Africa. After the New Delhi summit, it is however expected that G20 members will impact on the existing relationship between Diaspora businesses and SMEs there in the sub-continent.

Besides that, there are the traditional markets for some African products in which revenues are generated for their national budgets. The AU while negotiating for removing barriers could collaborate to reach an entirely new level in the trade and corporate business relationship. These are aspects of the primary targets for the AU’s G20 membership.

Policy analysts are discussing many questions about key results of the historic India G20 summit. But specifically for Africa, which is located in the Global South, it is the AU’s ability to engage in useful negotiations, adopt admirable efforts aimed at shifting policy toward practical development, and most importantly take assertive steps to portray its own economic outlook. This therefore explicitly means the AU has to back away from discriminating rhetoric, and fix an unshakeable wedge between geopolitical confrontation and cooperation. It has to determine its relations in the context of current complexities and contradictions around the world.

There is food for thought as we continue discussing the AU and its external relations. Kenya’s President William Ruto was not at the G20 summit, but at the Climate Change gathering held in Nairobi said Africa’s youthfulness is “precisely the attribute that inspired African leaders to imagine a future wherein Africa steps onto the stage as an economic and industrial power, an effective and positive actor in the global arena”.

African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has stressed the recognition of sustainable development gaps while consolidating the previous achievements and demonstrating genuine commitment to the reality of working together with the African continent, whose estimated population stands at 1.4 billion. Nevertheless, the point here, again, is that the collective African leadership must get down to their tasks of re-evaluating and addressing existing challenges across the continent of Africa.

In order to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has indicated several times in speeches that developed nations present a clear and credible roadmap for developing nations to formulate policies for accelerating actions to improve development needs in Africa. He has always maintained that these must be a fundamental interest for wealthy nations in the entire relationship, which must adopt reform measures and a proactive approach to the least-developed nations.

In forthcoming years, there will be a new partnership between G20 members and the AU for this matter. Most of the European Union members already have large investment in Africa. This implies that there will be further enormous contributions to the development of relations in diverse ways within different spheres, especially those directed at economic growth on the continent.

Today, the African Union and other regional and sub-regional organisations across the continent have undoubtedly embarked on their transformative pathways to play significant roles in international affairs. The AU’s G20 membership now illuminates new doors to multifaceted opportunities, and empowers it to pursue passions for forging new cooperation that will ultimately contribute to betterment and achievement of the SDGs.

With G20, the AU has to set new goals and tasks for the further development of cooperation in diverse areas: politics, security, the economy, science and technology, culture and humanitarian spheres. The G20 could continue to engage in exploring the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA), a policy signed by African states to make the continent a single market. As is well-known, the United States and African public and private sector leaders are seriously reviewing how to strengthen their economic partnerships within the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) framework.

Arguably, with G20 the AU has to effectively and largely address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has to enact systemic action and further be instrumental in implementing the African Union’s strategic document, Agenda 2063. As an integrated continental organisation, it has to represent Africa with dynamic force in the global arena. Finally, remember that at G20 the AU has the same status as the European (EU).

Unlike the European Union, the African Union has so many headaches arising from members’ national politics which invariably determine the level of economic development. It is interesting to note that nearly all African states are plagued by divergent interests and, more or less, some internal tensions. The AU has a wealth of experience in spearheading its collective agenda, such as the AfCFTA. So the AU has to remain indispensable for G20 diplomacy, and take multifaceted initiatives including mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Without this, its G20 membership will only be a decorative ornament and a badge on the chest, as is already being speculating inside Africa.

It is time for admirable rhetoric to be backed by calculated, robust actions. The new full-fledged membership of the G20 has widely been appreciated and applauded, but it is necessary to begin exploring diverse opportunities this status offers the entire Africa. It should not only be engagement in geopolitical balance at the high-table, but be viewed as a new window for prioritising large-scale development despite the sharp disparity in approach and methods.

“We cannot let geopolitical issues sequester the G20 agenda of discussions. We need peace and cooperation, so we have no interest in a divided G20,” Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in remarks ((India Briefing, September 10). It is becoming more and more influential in the world as a growing power. By seizing this opportunity, India can strengthen its leadership and play a more active role in shaping the global agenda.

The key economic takeaway from the two-day G20 summit, which wrapped up on September 10 in New Delhi, was the declaration of the importance of maintaining a ‘multilateral’ approach to solving global problems – from food security to climate regulation, including a call to fully factor-in the unique economic development characteristics of each nation.

The G20 leaders also underscored the need to maintain an open trade system and fight protectionism. The G20 final statement, which was unanimously supported by all members, warned of the risks from a global economic slowdown and reversal of progress toward ‘sustainable’ development goals.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up a G20 summit that played down geopolitical confrontations and divisions. India, the host, pressed members to agree on a common statement, which finally showed a huge and successful G20 under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Probably the most intriguing view is that it was, indeed, a major opportunity for India – to a considerable degree, the summit raised its profile on the world stage.

During its term, India held more than 200 meetings across some 50 cities involving ministers, officials and civil society, leading up to a marquee summit in New Delhi during September 2023. The G20 does not have a permanent secretariat, and one member takes over the presidency each year to steer the grouping’s agenda that is split into two tracks – one led by finance ministers and another by emissaries of leaders of member-countries. After India, Brazil will take over presidency of the G20, to be followed by South Africa in 2025.


Professor Maurice Okoli is a fellow at the Institute for African Studies and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences. He is also a fellow at the North-Eastern Federal University of Russia. He is an expert at the Roscongress Foundation and the Valdai Discussion Club.

As an academic researcher and economist with keen interest in current geopolitical changes and the emerging world order, Maurice Okoli frequently contributes articles for publication in reputable media portals on different aspects of the interconnection between developing and developed countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and Europe. With comments and suggestions, he can be reached via email: markolconsult @ gmail .com

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