The integration of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member of the Group of 20 (G-20) is both an opportunity and a challenge for the African continent. With this resolution, adopted at the summit of this forum held on September 9 and 10 in India, Africa will have a voice in an economic space where very important decisions are made – the G-20 represents 85% of world economic output and 75% of trade – and will therefore be able to contribute its perspective on issues relevant to the continent such as debt. trade or the impact of climate change. But, at the same time, joining the group obliges African countries to agree on these fundamental issues and overcome their historical internal differences.
"It is a recognition that the development of the world needs a more integrated Africa," says the prestigious Bissau-Guinean economist and professor Carlos Lopes, who has been defending the entry of the AU into this forum for more than a decade. "The discussion on debt restructuring or on the international financial regime can no longer take place without Africa. Another positive aspect is that it will increase the perception of the continent as a bloc, which will force us Africans to overcome old divisions," he says.
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The G-20 is an economic and political forum born in 1999 that integrates some of the most powerful economies in the world. In addition to 20 industrialized and emerging countries, the European Union was the only economic bloc that was a full member, a privilege it will now share with the AU. The inclusion of Africa, which represents only 3% of the planet's economy, has more to do with its demographic power (1,400 million inhabitants) and its strategic position as the holder of large natural resources, some of them key to the so-called energy transition.
In addition to the tens of thousands of deaths and the serious economic disruptions, the COVID-19 crisis left two wounds in Africa that deepened the continent's distrust of the international order: the unfair global distribution of vaccines, which were hoarded by developed countries, and the ineffectiveness of debt restructuring mechanisms. an African demand to overcome the blow of the pandemic. "In that discussion, Africa's voice was not heard, its real needs were not understood," says Lopes. A seat in the G20 will allow the continent not to be excluded from the debate.
In the opinion of the Bissau-Guinean economist, the strengthening of African integration will be another of the direct consequences of the entry into the G-20. "The Abuja Treaty in 1991 enshrined a process of integration by stages and economic blocs. But this didn't work. That perspective has been overcome for the first time with the creation of the Continental Free Trade Area (ZLEC), which entered into force on January 1, 2021. Entry into the G-20 follows the same logic", explains Lopes, for whom, despite its birth in the middle of the pandemic and all the difficulties of implementation, "in all African capitals there is already the awareness that it must be negotiated as a continent and not each country on its own".
In all African capitals there is already an awareness that it is necessary to negotiate as a continent and not each country on its own.
Senegalese development economist Ndongo Samba Sylla is not so optimistic. "From a symbolic point of view it is important, but I do not think it is the entry into the G20 that will change things in Africa, the weight of institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund is still enormous. That's where the big decisions are made and Africa, unfortunately, counts for little in them." Regarding the ZLEC and its possible impulse, Sylla believes that the trade union is born weighed down by its lack of political content. "It is necessary to move towards a federal model. It's good for Africa to have that voice in the G20, but we need more internal unity."
Silvia Perazzo, an Argentine historian specializing in conflicts in Africa, knows multilateral forums well. "If you use it well, it's great news. Its presence in the G20 will give Africa more room to negotiate. The important thing about these forums is what is not seen, the meetings and multi-party encounters. The AU has large projects related to high speed, the African university, the trade union or transport infrastructures that could benefit," explains Perazzo, who agrees that Africa will make the most of the multilateral organization if countries abandon the temptation to go it alone and privilege the search for answers and global agreements.
The world has changed and Africa aspires to have a greater presence in these decision-making spaces. The United Nations, unable to agree on issues as essential as responses to climate change, drags a serious crisis of credibility in which its inability to reform to adapt to the new times has been decisive. "The most important crises, such as Ukraine, Yemen or the Sahel, are discussed outside the United Nations and their peacekeeping missions on the continent have lost all their prestige," says Perazzo. "UN reform is no longer even a priority for the AU; has lost interest." Hence the importance of participating in other multilateral forums. And the G-20 is the most important of all.
A problem that the AU will have to solve is its formula of participation, which will also force a change in the structures of the continental organization. The European Union's representatives in the G20 have delegated powers from member countries, but not the chair of the AU commission. "It will be necessary to provide it with these powers, create a specific secretariat or a troika between the president of the day, the outgoing and the incoming president. The G-20 is a very complex forum, with more than 20 working groups that meet throughout the year," explains Lopes.
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