Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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AU should prepare now for G20 membership

With a growing chorus of voices calling for the African Union’s admission to the G20, that outcome looks increasingly likely. Many of the group’s most prominent members, including the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and France, have endorsed full membership for the AU, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed granting at the upcoming G20 summit in New Delhi.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, a champion of the cause during his recent tenure chairing the AU, has rightly pointed out that the move is long overdue, given the continent’s economic and demographic weight. With full membership, African leaders can help devise a fairer and more inclusive global financial system and multilateral solutions to pressing challenges such as climate change and pandemics – to the benefit of all.

Advocacy efforts are still required to secure the seat, but it is not too soon for the AU to prepare a strategy to reap the potential benefits of joining. Such a strategy should rest on the following four pillars.

For starters, the AU must carefully select its representatives to the G20. While the sitting chairperson may be the obvious choice to attend the leaders’ summit, it would be inadvisable under current circumstances. The constant turnover (the chairperson is elected for a one-year term), coupled with the limited institutional support currently available, would make it difficult for the AU to contribute effectively.

One idea worth exploring is to select either the chairperson of the AU Commission, which oversees the Union’s day-to-day activities, or a former head of state representing the AU at the leaders’ summit for a multi-year term.

Obviously, a strong AU leader at the G20 summit is not a panacea. Adequate representation at meetings of ministers, central-bank governors, and technical working groups convened by the G20’s Finance Track and Sherpa Track is equally important. Particular attention should be paid to the Finance Track, which has played a central role in developing G20 initiatives that have major implications for African economies, including the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), the Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the DSSI, and the Sustainable Finance Roadmap.

Second, AU representatives can be effective only if African policymakers develop and advance common positions on global economic issues. While the AU has traditionally succeeded in shaping African views on diplomatic matters, opinions on economic policy tend to be fragmented and are offered only sporadically.

Leaders of a few African countries are outspoken on these issues, but the continent will need to speak with one voice if it hopes to influence G20 decision-making. The prospect of full membership should create an impetus for the AU to put in place a process for shaping common economic positions that includes all relevant domestic stakeholders.

Third, the AU will need a clear agenda for reforming the global financial architecture. Amid interconnected crises related to climate change, food and energy insecurity, public-health emergencies, and conflict, the continent is confronting significant financing shortfalls. The international financial system currently covers only a small share of Africa’s sustainable-development needs, which are an estimated USD 1.3 trillion annually until 2030, and between 2016 and 2019 the continent received only three percent of global climate-finance flows. Such flows into Africa currently amount to USD 30 billion per year, far short of the USD 2.7 trillion needed by 2030 to implement its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris climate agreement.

Political momentum for an overhaul of the system is building, but simply joining calls for reform would be insufficient. To effect change, the AU must have a comprehensive plan around which it can rally its partners. Given the scope of such an undertaking, African leaders should reach out to relevant African institutions and experts now to help design a proposal and organize its rollout.

Lastly, building coalitions with other G20 members will be critical for the AU to maximize its influence over the group’s policymaking process. Such partnerships should be extended beyond governments and the European Union to all G20 actors involved in the forum, including think tanks, academics, civil-society groups, the private sector, trade unions, and young people’s and women’s organizations.

The AU should also engage with groups and development partners on the continent and seek their input and feedback on its G20 agenda. Pan-African institutions, multilateral organizations, and other non-governmental entities can offer valuable support that must not be wasted.

G20 membership will enable the AU to shape a global development agenda that is better aligned with its own Agenda 2063 and to mobilize external financing for climate adaptation, the energy transition, and infrastructure development. But in an era of great-power competition, the AU should not rely solely on multilateral cooperation. It must strengthen its ties with traditional partners, navigate the fraught relationship between the US and China to optimize development-finance flows, and leverage its growing economic relations with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), as Brazil is scheduled to assume the G20 presidency next year.

The AU and its member states urgently need to prepare for the permanent G20 seat that is increasingly likely to be offered. But they must lay the necessary groundwork now to produce the hoped-for political and development outcomes.

Ibrahim Assane is the African Union Special Envoy for Food Systems. Daouda Sembene is a managing partner of AfriCatalyst.

Contributed by Ibrahim Assane Mayaki & Daouda Sembene

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