ON September 9, the African Union (AU) was made a permanent member of the G20. This was after a series of requests and proposals on the matter by a number of prominent leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India), President Joe Biden (USA) and President Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), among others.
The differences in the political persuasions of the people, who supported Africa's entry into the powerful organisation invokes a curiosity to understand the implications of the continent's participation in the group, whether it will be of benefit or not, and to whom the benefit will accrue.
The G20 is a bloc of 19 wealthy and politically influential counties, which holds meetings, yearly, in order to coordinate policies in member countries, with the aim of directing the global economic landscape and other international priorities.
The European Union makes up the 20th member, with its seat, under the European Commission, representing every country within the EU bloc.
The introduction of the AU, now makes it a group of 21 (19 countries, plus the European Union and the AU), giving rise to the possibility of a name change to G21.
Formed in 1999, the original mission of the group was to coordinate financial policies of rich countries, so that they would be able to respond to global financial crises and promote global economic growth.
Through time, the G20 has evolved from a strict focus on finance and economic matters, to include; climate issues, human rights and political matters. It has become a hub where the prevailing global economic and political situation is determined and negotiated.
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In order for the continent to benefit from the group, it needs to have both the capacity and the ability to negotiate, at such an international level.
Interestingly, at the existing multilateral bodies such as the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, for example, African nations are struggling to sustain diplomatic missions, which are responsible for negotiations at the organisations.
With regards the WT0, African countries are still skipping a number of Joint Service Initiatives (negotiations), since they do not have the finances required to sustain adequate staff at the institution's headquarters in Geneva.
As a result, several binding agreements will be approved, without the input of such incapacitated nations.
Apart from capacity, the continent needs to ensure that it has enough skills to negotiate at such a stage. Typically, this requires competent personnel with in-depth knowledge of agenda items and the relevant ideological awareness of how Africa's expectations can fit into the G20 agenda.
An understanding of the continent's haggling abilities at other multilateral institutions shows that the continent still has vulnerabilities and skills gaps in this area.
Thus, an audit of the AU’s staff compliment is vital, in order to improve the G20’s membership value to Africa
If asking the right questions is a part of a great evaluation process, then it is vital for Africans to interrogate why it is only now, that they are being accepted into the eminent group of 20.
Additionally, support for AU's membership has been coming from very unlikely participants, such as the US.
Some experts have stated that the timing indicates that several advanced economies in the G20 are aiming to reduce the effectiveness of and cooperation in the Brics economic bloc.
After 15 years in existence, the Brics has finally succeeded in organising the major "Global South" economies, thereby threatening the traditional multilateral order.
Among the potential casualties (victims) of a successful Brics grouping are the use of the US dollar in international trade, the unrivalled military power of Northern countries (NATO), replacement of the IMF and World Bank as indispensable multilateral financial institutions, etc.
Additionally, China's growing influence around the world, and more so, in Africa, has left the continent's traditional economic and political partners (the West) lagging behind.
The new relationships, which China has managed to create around the world, are leaving Western nations, with less bilateral opportunities. Under China's flagship, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), for instance, 150 countries received infrastructure spending or loans from Beijing in a strategic mission to strengthen the Asian giant's influence, globally.
The Brics may be one of the reasons why the US introduced an alternative infrastructure programme at this year's G20 leaders’ summit.
Unveiled as the “Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment”, or the “India Middle-East Europe Economic Corridor” (IMEC), the programme will focus on railway and port investments, linking India, to the Middle East, Europe and USA (through ports).
The project will be vital in expediting the export of oil from the Middle East, to India, Europe and the USA.
By joining the G20, the AU can now bring emphasis to challenges faced by the 55 African nations, which it represents. There is also an opportunity to table solutions or proposals to address the world's problems, from an African viewpoint.
It is also noteworthy to be clear on the fact that the G20 does not have authority or power to enforce summit resolutions. However, the debates and contributions at the forumcreate room for cooperation and generally direct the policies of member countries in line with the decisions made at the summit.
At the end of the September meeting in New Delhi (India), leaders signed a declaration, which conveyed the agreements reached. The comprehensive declaration document contains the group's decisions on 10 broad negotiation points (agenda items).
A review of some of the resolutions made can reveal some limitations, biases and challenges besetting even this premium group. These include agreed positions onthe war in Ukraine, sustainable economic growth (through increased FDI flows) and international trade as a channel for global economic growth.
With regards the war in Ukraine, there was a plea to have the war de-escalate and particularly to restore the initiative, which gave way for Ukrainian agricultural products to be exported to different consumer destinations around the world, through the black sea (Black Sea Grain Deal).
As it stands, Ukrainian grain is stockpiled at ports in the country with a smaller portion being transported by railway into Europe through the western-side of the nation.
This route is more expensive and limits the quantity of food, which can be exported to the rest of the world. The determination by the G20 to have the black sea route restored seems noble and just, until one has a clear picture of the other details of this deal, which the group is blatantly ignoring.
The G20 declaration failed to articulate that the reason the grain deal was revoked is because Russia's terms (requests) in the grain deal were not fulfilled, for over a year, since the deal came into being.
Fertilisers from Russia have been blocked by European states, and Russian banks are still sanctioned by Western financial systems, in contrast to the grain deal's terms that this should not be so.
Therefore, the declaration on the war in Ukraine shows that the bloc is losing the basic requirement of clear communication, honesty and objectivity.
Africa has to be ready to experience some lacklustre responses on matters it holds in high regard, as well as it joins the group. This conveys the importance of managing expectations in order to avoid frustration.
The declaration on sustainable economic growth outlines that the G20 will encourage increased foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into member states in order to drive economic growth.
If Africa experiences more FDI flows due to this commitment then there is reason to acknowledge the G20 for such a breakthrough. Nevertheless, for a continent which received only 3,5% (US$45 billion) of total global FDI flows (US$1,3 trillion) in 2022, it may serve the continent well to approach its expectations with caution as well.
Typically, a disproportionate part of global FDI flows moves strictly within the advanced OECD economies and very rarely into developing regions, such as Africa. Whether the G20 will be able to change this trend remains to be seen.
Regarding international trade, the grouping outlines that members will work to ensure that it is unimpeded and fair. However, the case has been that, for decades, even through the existence of the G20, international trade has been unfair and characterised by barriers, which block out exports from Africa into advanced and emerging economies.
Northern economies (particularly those in G20) are infamous for subsidising their farmers to a level where their agricultural produce becomes unsustainably cheap.
In 2020, the OECD's "Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation” report revealed that capable countries were subsidising their farmers to the tune of US$700 billion, yearly.
This has worked against the competitive advantage of Africa, which originally produced cheaper agricultural commodities but lost competitiveness due to an incapacity to subsidise their farmers. Therefore, African nations which were supposed to be exporting to the US and EU have now become net food-importers, owing to the insensitivity and unfairness of advanced economies.
Ironically, the same northern economies rebuke African nations for government interventions in their economies, labelling those which do as "socialists" and "incompetent".
Therefore, one would be uniformed of past trade dynamics, if they expect that the G20 countries have an authentic commitment to encourage free global trade.
It can be inferred from the declaration points outlined that although the G20 is a prominent group necessary to participate in expectations have to be rightly managed, in order to avoid disappointment.
There does exist an opportunity for Zimbabwe to work on resolving some of its legacy (prolonged) challenges through the AU's membership.
It will be easier to work on the removal of Western sanctions on the country, using the G20 channel. With a good team of AU negotiators, the restrictions can be revoked.
Moreover, as Harare works towards resolving its US$8,3 billion in debt arrears, the AU may request that the country join the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments.
Zambia has successfully participated in the programme, with the result of a moratorium on its debt repayments and overall reprofiling, which will reschedule their debt to more than 20 years. Such a framework is urgently needed for Zimbabwe.
As can be understood from the various scenarios outlined above, Africa needs to manage its expectations now that it is a member of the G20. Although breakthrough resolutions can be secured through the group, it may not necessarily be assured that such will happen.
Secondly, the AU needs to invest in capacity and personnel, who will represent the continent adequately at this global platform.
Thirdly, there is a need for the continent to not be alienated from its other partners such as the BRICS, through the glitter of its new-found home in G20.
Lastly, Zimbabwe has room to negotiate for the removal of Western sanctions and resolving its debt overhang through this, more precise vehicle.
Understanding how to leverage the greatest value out of the G20, or lack thereof, will determine whether the membership is useful or rather, symbolic.
- Tutani is a political economy analyst. — [email protected].