The Group of 20 is one of the developed world’s most comprehensive forums among economic groupings. The G20 was founded in 1999 and comprises 19 of the developed world’s economic powers plus the European Union (EU). In addition to regular meetings between G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, a G20 summit convenes every two years. In June 2019, a G20 summit will be held in Osaka, Japan.
For a decade now African attendance has been observed repeatedly at G20 summits. South Africa is one of the member states of the G20, but a number of African organizations, including the African Union (AU), were invited to attend many G20 summits and participate in their discussions, without actually being members in the group.
With the frequent attendance of the AU of G20 summits springs the opportunity of the AU to acquire membership in the group. On one hand, there is the precedence of the EU’s membership in the G20 in its organizational capacity besides the membership of four of its countries – Germany, France, the UK and Italy – in the influential group. On the other, the AU ranks 11th in the total global gross domestic product, which qualifies the Union for a membership in the G20.
These two factors consolidate the importance of benefiting from Egypt’s chairmanship of the AU and its international weight to launch the first official African initiative for the AU to join the G20 as a member.
Preparing for Osaka 2019
An economic and cultural hub, Osaka will host the next G20 summit on 28-29 June. The western Japanese city will also host Expo 2025, for which it has already started strategizing. A number of events will precede the G20 summit, such as the G20 meeting of the ministers of agriculture in May and a conference comprising the ministers of finance, trade, energy and digital economy as well as central bank governors in early June. After the Osaka summit, a meeting of labor ministers will take place in September, followed by a convention of health and tourism ministers in October, and a foreign ministerial meeting on 22 November.
Despite the fact that the agenda of the G20 summit in Osaka has not been announced, a number of indicators appeared in the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s speech at the closing session of the previous G20 summit held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2018, reflecting Japan’s interest in certain crucial issues.
Shinzō’s speech focused on his country’s intention to use the 2019 Osaka summit to lead the world’s economic growth through boosting free trade, creativity, bridging gaps and contributing to the goals of sustainable development and the digital economy. He said this was how Japan will achieve a human-centered future society, a society that is free, open, comprehensive and sustainable. Shinzō also stressed Japan’s interest in investing in infrastructure, world health, climate change and solving the problem of plastic wastes in oceans. His speech revealed the adoption of a comprehensive vision the framework of which centers on integrating all members of society in the process of development, putting into consideration that the individual is the focus of development and its goal.
Africa’s Participation in the G20
The AU first attended a G20 summit in Toronto, Canada, in June 2010. Since then the Union and its economic development program, known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), have been regularly invited to attend G20 summits. The AU attends G20 summits as a visitor or an observer that can participate in discussions but not as a policy-maker.
Nevertheless, G20 summits have increasingly given more attention to Africa’s issues. During China’s presidency of the G20 in 2016, it focused on supporting production in Africa. The following year, Germany presiding over the G20, suggested the “Compact with Africa” initiative and presented at the G20 Insights platform, after the conclusion of the G20 summit in Hamburg, the idea of connecting the AU’s 2063 Vision with the United Nations’ sustainable development strategy for 2030, in addition to increasing cooperation and fostering partnership between the AU and G20 states’ think tanks.
Although Argentina didn’t launch an initiative targeting Africa, it focused on popular diplomacy to foster cooperation.
The fact that the relationship between the AU and the G20 is growing stronger by the day increases the chances of promoting the AU’s status from an observer to member, just like the case with the EU. The grouping would then be called the G21.
This comes in line with the informal proposal presented by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda – chairman of the AU in 2018 – at a dinner table at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires last year to include the African Union Commission in the G20; to promote cooperation and partnership between the two entities, and to transform the relationship between the G20 and Africa from “trusteeship” to a “partnership”, by bringing the African outlook to discussion panels and preparatory meetings in a more profound and interactive manner.
There is a genuine opportunity at including the African perspective in G20 discussions on global issues that directly affect the economic and developmental prospects of the African continent. But to put these ideas in perspective will only be done by dealing with Africa as an equal partner.
Africa’s Discourse to Join the G20
Events in the past decade have proven the AU has a chance to earn a full membership in the G20. But Africa’s discourse has to focus on bridging the gap between the two organizations if it wants to join the G20.
The AU has to concentrate less on the inequality between Africa and the G20. African countries continue to suffer from poor infrastructure, high unemployment rates and slow regional integration. Moreover, most of the G20’s interaction with Africa takes place through development working groups that focus on the bases of development, such as the elimination of poverty.
The more the African discourse concentrates on grants the continent can receive from the G20, the less the group can look at Africa as a potential or equal partner.
Another factor concerns Africa’s participation mechanisms and engagement in policy-making and the outcomes of the upcoming Osaka Summit. Shinzō’s speech suggested that the AU can adopt a number of alternative approaches to make a concrete contribution. Environmental and energy issues, as well as societal aging, are at the forefront of the Japanese human-centered community strategy. In addition to the vast natural resources of the continent, Africa’s capital lies in its demographic weight that makes it the most youthful continent.
Africa’s rich culture increases the chance of finding a common ground with Japan’s human-centered future society strategy, since Africa’s culture is community-oriented, not individual-based, and seeks to foster dependence on man, not the machine.
By not focusing on the progress-versus-backwardness approach, and concentrating on human development issues, the African Authentic Discourse can create a comfortable meeting point between the AU and the G20 based on equality and partnership for the sake of human development.
This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Africa 2019… Equilibrium Severs … Promising Future, Cairo, March 2019.