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KIBII: Reform AU to Maximise Gains at G20 Table

KIBII: Reform AU to Maximise Gains at G20 Table
MULTILATERAL INCLUSIVITY: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Comoros president and AU Chairman Azali Assoumani at the G20 Summit. Image: AFRICAN UNION

With a chest-to-chest hug, pats on the back, India PM and G20 New Delhi Summit chairperson Narendra Modi welcomed Comoros President and AU chairman Azali Assoumani to the premier forum for international economic cooperation on September 9.

As AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki said, the African Union has been advocating the membership for a while, and “will provide a propitious framework for amplifying advocacy in favor of the continent and its effective contribution to meeting global challenges”. 

Many other leaders welcomed the move, with President William Ruto, who has since assuming office, been calling for the inclusion of Africa’s voice at the global decision-making table, including at the UN Security Council. 

“Kenya welcomes the addition of the African Union — the fastest growing continent in the world — to the G20. This will increase the voice of Africa, visibility and influence on the global stage and provide a platform to advance the common interest of our people.  

“This fits perfectly with the resolutions of the just-concluded Africa Climate Summit, including the reform of international financial institutions and multilateral development banks,” President Ruto said. 

With the ongoing geopolitics, various global powers are taking credit for the push, each having spoken about it at different stages, with China, for instance, calling for the continental body’s admission to the G20 in January 2022.  

“Congrats to the African Union for its newly granted permanent membership of G20. As the first country that explicitly expressed its support for the AU’s full membership in the G20, we believe in AU playing a bigger role in global governance and building together a shared future,” Ambassador Wu Peng, African Affairs Director-General at China MFA said on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

Mid this year, with the backing of the US, France, Japan and China, Modi wrote to the G20 counterparts proposing the AU be given full membership at the New Delhi Summit of G20, “as requested by them”. The admission worked well with Modi’s branding of speaking for the Global South.  

But beyond these congratulatory messages, what does this admission mean to Africa, and how will it be executed? 

G20 was formed on September 26, 1999, just two weeks after OAU heads of state and government issued the Sirte Declaration calling for the establishment of an AU on September 9, 1999. 

The rebranding sought to accelerate integration in Africa to enable the continent play its rightful role in the global economy. 

The AU was consequently launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, this time with a focus on increased cooperation and integration of African states to drive growth and economic development instead of the initial objective of decolonisation and ridding the continent of apartheid. 

The 55-member states (including six suspended) continental body now has the same status as the European Union – the only regional bloc with a full membership – at the G20. 

Its previous designation was “invited international organisation”, as some countries attend, some permanently such as Spain.  

AU joins 19 countries, including South Africa, and the EU, with the members representing around 85 per cent of the global GDP, more than 75 per cent of global trade and about two-thirds of the world population. 

Ten years since its inception in 1999, G20 in its 2009 summit, declared itself the primary venue for international economic and financial cooperation. This is the platform the AU is joining and has to make it worthy. 

It comes at a time the continent is dealing with various challenges, among them, debt distress (according to UNDP, 24 of the 54 lower-income countries at high risk of debt distress are in Africa), conflicts, coups, drought and floods, among other climate change-instigated problems that have hit respective economies hard. 

AU’s handling of these challenges hasn’t drawn much confidence, remaining a toothless bulldog in enhancing governance and solving conflicts. 

Already, questions have been raised on; one, how the AU will be able to represent the various different interests of African countries with different dynamics at the G20 and two, how the representation will be done. 

The  G20 member states are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US. 

Three are EU members, out of the total 27 states in the economic and political bloc with a combined GDP of approximately €16 trillion. Africa’s combined GDP is estimated at roughly $3.1 trillion. 

According to World Bank data, Nigeria and Egypt with $477 billion worth of GDP are the biggest economies in Africa, with South Africa coming third at $406 billion.  

G20, being the member club of the big economies, it then should have had a slot for the two or either of for a better representation of the estimated 1.4 billion people on the continent – a huge potential market. 

Nigeria expressed interest in applying for admission ahead of the New Delhi Summit. President Bola Tinubu’s spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale said the Nigerian government had embarked on wide-ranging consultations with a view to ascertaining the benefits and risks of G20 membership. 

Be that as it may, Africa’s participation at the G20 decision-making table will have positives to draw from. As former US Senator Mike Enzi said, if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu. 

Africa has been on the menu since the Berlin Conference in 1884-86. 

So who sits at the table as the representative: the AU chairperson, on rotational basis, or the AU Commission chairperson or both? 

The EU is represented at the G20 by both the council and the commission presidents. 

Charles Michel is currently the EU Council president, heading the heads of state or government of the member states, while Ursula von der Leyen is the president of the European Commission, the executive body. 

While the EU Commission president’s term is five years renewable once, that of the council president is two-and-a-half, renewed once, offering some stability and continuity. 

Borrowing from this, AU chairperson, which is rotational among the five regions (north, south, east, west and central) and the commission chairman, the CEO of the secretariat to the political structures and responsible to the Executive Council, should represent Africa. The AUC chairperson is elected by the assembly on a four-year term renewable once, thus continuity. 

It wouldn’t make sense for the Foreign Minister of same member state that chairs the assembly and consequently the Executive Council to also be a representative. 

The AU reforms, should, however, be fast-tracked, particularly on the realignment of its institutions to deliver against the continental priorities – political affairs, peace and security, Africa’s global representation and voice, and economic integration – and the emerging issues. 

As the AU itself notes, there is need to reevaluate the bureaucratic bottlenecks and inefficiencies, the structures as well as review and update the mandate and structure of key organs and institutions in the commission to achieve its priorities. 

This article was first published by the Star Digital.

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