In tandem with the global public opinion dwelling on the developments of the Russo-Ukrainian war, an alliance between four African countries was announced. On 20 February 2022, a quadruple African alliance was launched under the name “Group of Four Nations” (G4) at the initiative of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The announcement of this alliance came from Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who revealed an agreement reached with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and Abiy Ahmed, to establish the G4. This announcement was made in the context of the sixth European Union-African Union Summit held in Brussels.
According to leaders of the G4, the new alliance will work to promote its role under the umbrella of the African Union (AU) and will serve as a link between the AU member states to coordinate positions and responses towards proactively addressing urgent issues facing Africa, thus avoiding exacerbation of crises. Further, the G4 will follow up on the implementation of all decisions adopted by the AU and give effect to them, along with reflecting the interests of Africa through consultation and coordination towards unifying the voice of Africa before international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations, as well as the major powers, i.e. the United States of America, Russia, and China. This analysis touches on the context associated with the announcement of the G4, the motives that drove the four countries to join the alliance, and how this unprecedented step can be interpreted.
The Context Associated with the Announcement of the G4 Alliance
The announcement of the G4 diplomatic bloc was associated with several regional and international developments. However, it primarily came against the backdrop of two key issues:
1. The French Withdrawal from Mali: The announcement of the G4 alliance coincided with the French withdrawal from Mali. On 17 February 2022, France, its European partners, and Canada announced, in a joint statement, the withdrawal of the two anti-rebel Takuba and Barkhane forces from Mali, due to the deteriorating political, operational, and legal situation in a way that impedes the French counter-terrorism activity in Mali. The French withdrawal would likely to constitute an opportune moment for the exacerbation of terrorist operations in northern Mali, being the most vulnerable area in the Sahel.
In this vein, Senegalese President Macky Sall warned, during the African-European summit in Brussels, that the departure of the French, European, and UN forces will create a security vacuum in Mali. Algeria is also concerned about the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel with the growth of terrorist operations and repercussions of the influx of illegal immigrants from Mali to the Algerian borders, which will negatively affect Algerian national security.
2. The Crisis of Granting Israel Observer Status in the AU: There were divisions among African countries over granting Israel observer status in the AU. This has been evident at the AU Summit held on 5 February 2022. Discussion and vote on withdrawing the observer status from Israel was suspended to avoid deepening the rift resulting from the individual decision taken by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, in July 2021, on approval to grant observer status to Israel in AU without consulting the member states. Notably, several countries, including South Africa and Algeria, have objected to the decision, considering it inconsistent with the AU’s support for the Palestinian cause. At the conclusion of the summit, it was decided that the question of Israel’s observer status be suspended and that a committee be set up to examine the issue, comprising South Africa and Algeria besides Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (both support Faki’s decision) as well as Cameroon and Nigeria. Algeria’s and South Africa’s rejectionist position is based on the fact that the Israeli violations against the Palestinians are still ongoing; therefore, Israel shouldn’t be allowed to gain an observer status.
Motives for Forming the African G4
The new alliance raises a question pertaining to the motives behind forming it, particularly the four countries are already involved in other regional bodies that establish goals that may not be much different from those of the new alliance. At large, predominant triggers for the formation of the G4 include the following:
1. Ethiopia’s desire to regain its stature at home and abroad: Ethiopia’s standing has been hurt at home and abroad. Internally, Ethiopia has been afflicted, since June 2020, by an armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government led by Abiy Ahmed. All the parts involved in the conflict have been condemned internationally as the violations committed rise to war crimes. The United States also imposed sanctions on persons who committed unlawful violence and abuses against Ethiopian citizens in the Tigray as well as those who obstructed humanitarian access to the region. Regionally, Ethiopia’s relations with neighboring countries are characterized by tension, particularly towards Egypt and Sudan, due to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis, Ethiopia’s non-compliance with diplomatic solutions, and its opt for unilateral decisions without regard for the interests of the downstream countries.
As such, Abiy Ahmed is trying to rebuild Ethiopia’s image at home and abroad. At home, he works to re-mobilize Ethiopian public opinion as has been evidenced by his announcement, in December 2021, of the victories notched up by the Ethiopian army in its fight against the TPLF and its control over major cities in Amhara, previously controlled by the TPLF, causing the latter to flee back into its territory. Additionally, on 20 February 2022, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially announced the start of generating electricity from the GERD (upon completion, the dam will have an estimated capacity of 5,150 megawatts), a step that was supposed to contribute to rebuilding the Ethiopian economy which has been hit by the Tigray war and Covid-19 pandemic.
At the international and regional levels, Abiy Ahmed worked to engage in regional alliances such as the G4 alliance. The G4 alliance, which came at the initiative of Abiy himself, reflects his ambition, sending the message that Ethiopia has managed to overcome its internal crisis and is now turning to play a significant role in the regional equation. The accession of Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa to Abiy Ahmed’s alliance reflects their acceptance of the Ethiopian internal and external policies.
2. Algeria’s desire to gain G4 support against Moroccan influence: Algerian-Moroccan relations have been characterized by stalemate, after Morocco moved to normalization of its relations with Israel by signing the Ibrahim Accords in December 2020 and obtaining the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Algeria has opposed these moves due to their negative impact on Algerian national security. Noteworthy, Algeria is the main supporter of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence and establishment of a state in the disputed Western Sahara, the majority of which is controlled by Morocco.
Algeria also expressed its rejection of Morocco’s support for Israel to obtain observer status in the AU. Basically, Algeria’s accession to the G4 was motivated by its desire to obtain regional support to curb Moroccan ambitions. Immediately after the announcement of the G4, Moroccan media expressed alarm by this step, as this initiative is led by countries that are hostile to Morocco and will capitalize on their influence within the AU to confront Moroccan ambitions in Africa.
Beyond that, Algeria is also competing with Morocco at the economic level, as has been demonstrated by its strengthening of cooperation with Nigeria on natural gas, which was translated into the launch of the Algeria-Nigeria gas pipeline project, within the framework of what is known as the “Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline”, a gas pipeline of more than 4,000 km extending from Nigeria to Algeria via Niger, in order to transport several billion cubic meters of gas to Europe through the Algerian gas pipeline network.
3. Weakness of the African Union in addressing Africa’s problems: Africa faces a set of political, economic, and security challenges and has witnessed a series of coups in West Africa. Generally, the AU lacks coordination of joint positions among member states. Therefore, the AU fell short of addressing several issues and its bodies failed to respond to the security challenges. Additionally, the AU has not developed a clear plan to address the challenges facing the continent. For example, the root causes of coups in Africa have not been addressed and the AU’s action was limited to suspending the membership of countries in which coups occurred. It is this vulnerability of the AU that prompted the G4 to take the initiative to form the new African bloc with the aim of facing the challenges facing Africa and resolving crises without relying on external actors, which would promote the role of the bloc in engaging in the urgent issues that require positive approach to it to maintain peace and security in Africa.
In short, it can be argued the G4 alliance constitutes more than 30 percent of Africa’s total population and is characterized by geographical diversity. South Africa is located in the south of the continent, Algeria in North Africa, Nigeria in West Africa, and Ethiopia is in East Africa. Further, this bloc represents a major economic force, constituting the largest part in financing the AU budget. As for the extent the G4 can achieve its desired goals on the ground, we have to take into account that countries that make up the alliance suffer from internal crises and there is a lack of consensus among them on regional issues. Algeria has not made any progress in mediating between Ethiopia and the two downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) on the GERD crisis and Algeria and South Africa oppose the Israeli infiltration into Africa while Ethiopia maintains close relations with Israel. All of these indicators demonstrate that the alliance isn’t based on a solid ground that qualifies it to perform its desired functions.