While Western media spent much of early September focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s absence at the Group of 20 Top Economies (G20) Summit, the forum of international cooperation slowly but surely re-oriented the world’s economic gaze toward Africa, the globe’s largest free trade area.
In a move that has yet to make headlines in the United States or European capitals, the G20 welcomed the African Union (AU) as a new permanent member.
Before the announcement, South Africa was the only majority-Black country with permanent representation in the G20. Now the AU is, after the European Union, the second multi-state organization to be granted permanent membership by the body, which has met at least once a year since 2008.
“We welcome the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 and strongly believe that inclusion of the African Union into the G20 will significantly contribute to addressing the global challenges of our time,” the G20 said in a leaders’ declaration issued on the final day of the summit.
With a theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” the two-day summit in New Delhi,India reflects a slight but noticeable shift in the global economic order. Western countries are eyeing greener and more sustainable economies that will require more of a reliance on raw materials that are mainly sourced from the 54 countries that make up the continent of Africa.
Beyond raw materials, Africa’s booming population growth and increased influence on global culture through immigration, food, music and the arts has made the AU and its members far more impactful globally than some Western capitals would like to admit.
In the G20’s announcement of the AU’s permanent membership, they cited sustainable development and inclusive growth, principles that are mentioned in Uplifting Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, an economic blueprint and master plan that African leaders authored to transform Africa into a future global player.
“Africa plays an important role in the global economy,” the G20 Leaders’ Declaration said. “We commit to strengthen our ties with and support the African Union to realize the aspirations under Agenda 2063.”
Africa is projected to account for a quarter of the planet’s population by 2050. As the Russian-Ukrainian conflict continues to occupy the foreign policy agenda of Europe and North America’s economic powerhouses, Africa’s growing and youthful population of 1.3 billion has put the 54-member African Continental Free Trade Area on the global stage.
“Congratulations to all of Africa!” Senegal President Macky Sall, the previous AU chair and proponent for G20 membership, said in the Associated Press.
While the scars of European colonialism remain in Africa, African leaders are courting major investors and political interests from emerging global powers. China is Africa’s largest trading partner. The Gulf nations are the continent’s most prominent investors. And Russia is the leading arms supplier.
Meanwhile, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, remains mired in Washington gridlock and partisan politics. PEPFAR, America’s central economic footprint on the African continent, is currently up for renewal but remains stalled in the U.S. Congress.
The 20-year public health initiative allows non-profit groups to provide HIV/AIDS medication to millions worldwide. It has saved more than 25 million lives in Africa through long-term investments. It has also developed more robust local and national healthcare systems, which is a necessary cornerstone for economic growth.
However, Republican pro-life lawmakers are jeopardizing the program’s renewal and America’s foreign policy agenda in Africa because of concerns about abortion, reproductive healthcare access and contraception distribution.
Despite these objections, the Biden Administration has tried to make Africa part of its larger global strategy. Beyond being among the most significant contributors to Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, the administration has sent various high-ranking officials to the continent, including Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
With a trip to the continent slated for before the end of Biden’s first term, according to a source close to the White House, the U.S.’ posture to Africa can only afford to get better given the AU’s new permanent seat on the G20.
During her visits to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, Vice President Harris made a $100 million commitment to address security, governance and development in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. While there, she also announced $7 billion in private sector investments and the Biden Administration’s plan to address climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation throughout the continent.
“African nations have historically contributed relatively little to the climate crisis but are disproportionately harmed by its impacts,” said a White House memo on the vice president’s trip to the region.
With its permanent seat at G20, the AU will likely continue to show that Africa is an active player in its growth and an independent voice in global issues.
With 60% of the world’s renewable resources produced in Africa and more than 30% of minerals necessary for carbon technologies and the emerging green economy located on the continent, Africa’s place on the global stage is rooted in increasing industrial development and slowing the processing of continental raw materials elsewhere.
This G20 seat will also allow Africa to shape how global economic leaders tackle the increases in food prices, and particularly the G20’s impact on less advantaged countries due to the Ukraine crisis, which has increased the cost of wheat globally.
The AU is one of two multinational groups representing African Diaspora majority countries. The Caribbean Community or CARICOM, is the other. With 14 countries and one dependency, CARICOM is an economic and political union of Caribbean countries brought together to promote economic integration, coordinated foreign policy and global equity.
Similar to the AU, CARICOM has been hit by significant swings in weather and flooding linked to climate change. It has seen the vestiges of European colonization on its member-states. In 2023, the organization took a leading role in working toward a solution to the deteriorating situation in Haiti.
With the next head-of-state G20 meeting taking place in 2024, there remains the question of what impact will a new voting member have on the world’s leading economies, and more importantly the African Diaspora’s status on the African continent and throughout the rest of the world.