Africa: AU’s Membership of the G20 – Why the Pessimism?


While there are legitimate concerns about the ‘readiness’ of the AU to significantly influence the G20 agenda, there is no basis for pessimism.

As the 2024 G20 Summit draws near, a certain pessimistic sentiment has surfaced regarding the AU’s inclusion in the G20. Critics contend that Africa’s perceived lack of unity, exemplified by the divergent voting patterns of AU member states within the United Nations, regarding conflicts such as the Russian-Ukrainian war and the Israeli-Palestinian issue, undermines its effectiveness. Indeed, attention has been drawn to the prevalent competition and discord among regional powers…

The African Union (AU) will be under scrutiny as it assumes its rightful position at the upcoming 19th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the G20, which is scheduled to convene in November in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. South Africa is scheduled to host the 20th Summit after Brazil next year. The G20, a forum for global economic, political, and strategic cooperation, remains one of the most important organisations in the world. Initially conceived as an informal forum to address economic cooperation in the aftermath of worldwide financial crises, the G20 has evolved into a pivotal platform for global governance, facilitating coordinated policy actions on economic stability and multifaceted international challenges. Its significance is underscored by the fact that the group collectively represents about 80 per cent of the global GDP, 75 per cent of world trade, and encompasses over 60 per cent of the world’s population. The inclusion of the AU as a permanent member of the G20 at its 18th Summit in India last year has sparked varied reactions within Africa and beyond.

Since its inception, the AU has faced scrutiny across various forums regarding its capacity to serve as a formidable African representative on the global stage. Despite its engagement with global partners and international organisations such as the United Nations Security Council, through its three representatives (the A3), the AU’s impact on the international arena has been notably limited. The vacuum in global leadership, the continued proliferation of the multipolar order, the rising calls for the reforms of institutions of global governance, the resurgence of the ‘scramble for Africa’ by global powers (both minor and major), and the admission of the AU as a permanent member of the G20, have strategically placed the continental body in a position of influence.

Africa is the future. Its admission into the G20 reflects its importance on the global stage. The continent boasts of the world’s youngest population, with 70 per cent under 30 years old, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) stands as the largest free trade area by population, exceeding 1.3 billion, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion. Nevertheless, the question persists on whether African leaders at the national, regional, and continental levels will seize the opportunity to renegotiate its status within the prevailing international order.

Others continue to ‘celebrate’ these so-called divisions, which would significantly impede the potential of the AU to benefit from its membership of the G20, whilst Africa has demonstrated a staunch consensus on several global issues that are negatively affecting the African continent and its people. There exists a resounding consensus surrounding the multifaceted challenges encompassing poverty…

As the 2024 G20 Summit draws near, a certain pessimistic sentiment has surfaced regarding the AU’s inclusion in the G20. Critics contend that Africa’s perceived lack of unity, exemplified by the divergent voting patterns of AU member states within the United Nations, regarding conflicts such as the Russian-Ukrainian war and the Israeli-Palestinian issue, undermines its effectiveness. Indeed, attention has been drawn to the prevalent competition and discord among regional powers, including the current divisions within the West African regional bloc, notably the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), particularly in addressing the recurrent challenges posed by military coups in the region.

Others continue to ‘celebrate’ these so-called divisions, which would significantly impede the potential of the AU to benefit from its membership of the G20, whilst Africa has demonstrated a staunch consensus on several global issues that are negatively affecting the African continent and its people. There exists a resounding consensus surrounding the multifaceted challenges encompassing poverty, aggressive exploration and exploitation of its mineral and human resources, the proliferation of small arms and foreign fighters across Africa, the pressing concerns of climate change, dependency, and the democratisation of global institutions, such as the UN and its Security Council. Africa requires support in different areas like infrastructural development, as about 50.6 per cent of Africans on the continent lack access to electricity. Thus, transitioning to renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change involves costs associated with infrastructure investment and technology deployment.

The AU must build consensus among its member states concerning global issues that directly affect Africa, adopt proactive agenda-setting diplomacy, and consult widely with resourceful Africans, think-tank and civil society organisations, and the private sector for its effectiveness. AU’s membership can alleviate Africa’s voice on the global stage, present an opportunity to influence the socio-economic and political agenda of the global powers…

While the issue of reparations has not been on the top of the agenda of African states and the AU, the continental body should demand greater commitment from the G20 members to bridge the widening global inequality gap. Among others, the platform also presents an opportunity for the AU to contend with the securitisation of migration and weaponisation of official development assistance (ODA) by G20 members, particularly the European Union (EU). Furthermore, amidst the complex dynamics of climate change and global warming, it is evident that the onus primarily falls upon the global powers for their significant contribution to these phenomena. Meanwhile, Africa and the broader Global South persist as vulnerable entities, bearing the brunt of the repercussions stemming from the negligent stewardship of the Earth’s atmosphere.