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African Union Admitted as Permanent G20 Member

The African Union officially took its seat at the table of the world’s richest and most powerful countries, commonly known as G20, on Saturday with the approval of all and at the request of the summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The expansion of the block is a notable diplomatic victory for Modi, who faces national elections next year and has used hosting rights for this year’s forum to burnish his image as an international statesman.

This invite comes at a time when India, a BRICS member, has been very vocal about its core engagement of multi-alignment, maintaining strategic autonomy and not being boxed in any camp or alliance, while building a multipolar world.

Comprised of 19 nations and the EU, Africa had only been marginally represented within the G20 through South Africa’s seat and AU permanent guest ship.

This admission is the first change since the conception of the group in 1999.

Before his opening speech, Modi greeted African Union chair and Comoros President Azali Assoumani with a warm hug.

“India put a proposal to give permanent membership of G20 to the African Union. I believe that with we have everyone’s agreement on this,” Modi said in his opening address to the summit.

“With everyone’s approval, I request the African Union head to take his seat as a permanent G20 member,” he added, banging a ceremonial gavel.

Assoumani then took his seat among world leaders at the invitation of India’s foreign affairs minister S. Jaishankar. 

Officially launched in 2002, the AU is a grouping of 55 African nations representing about 1.4 billion people and around 10% of the world’s economy. 

Major project in the Middle East

According to American and European sources, an agreement in principle is also due to be signed at the G20 between the United States, Saudi Arabia – represented by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Slimane – the United Arab Emirates, the EU and other G20 partners for a major sea and rail transport project crossing the Middle East to link India to Europe.

This project is likely to be a response to China’s New Silk Roads, whose President Xi Jinping is absent from New Delhi, as is his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The announcement also comes at a time when US President Joe Biden is working on a possible normalisation of relations between Israel (which could eventually join the project) and Saudi Arabia, following on from those with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

It “has enormous potential”, and is “the result of months of careful diplomacy”, said US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer.

The G20 countries are likely to find it even harder to reach a consensus on geopolitical issues, notably the attitude to adopt towards Russia, or the climate. These are issues with far-reaching consequences for developing countries, which are in the front line when it comes to extreme weather events linked to climate change, as well as food insecurity fuelled by the war in Ukraine, which is depressing grain prices.

“Developing economies are the first to be affected by climate change, even though they are the least responsible for this crisis”, said South African President Ramaphosa.

Climate emergency

For his part, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reminded the G20 of the “unprecedented climate emergency” facing the world as a result of a “lack of commitment to the environment”, citing the floods in his country as an example.

Amnesty International had already warned on Thursday that the absence of solid commitments on climate change in particular would be a “potentially catastrophic” failure for the G20, which represents 85% of global GDP and is responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

All the more so in the wake of a call to order with a report under the aegis of the UN Climate Organisation calling for “much more to be done, now, on all fronts” to tackle the climate crisis.

Earlier this week in Nairobi, participants at Africa’s first climate summit also called on the international community to help them realise the continent’s potential in the fight against global warming, through investment and reform of the international financial system.