As the President of the Group of Twenty (G20), India hosted the final summit on September 9 and 10. The event was attended by more than 40 world leaders, including the G20 Heads of State or their representatives. And one major outcome of the event, arguably the most significant, was that India successfully secured a permanent place in the Group of 20 for the African Union (AU), the continental body of 55 member-states.
Several analysts had predicted that the Ukraine crisis would create in an impasse. Yet, India was successful in steering the conference toward a consensus-driven joint statement, the “Delhi Declaration.” Moreover, once introduced, the Global Biofuels Alliance and the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor will have a major geopolitical impact in the coming days. Unsurprisingly, most participating nations, including the USA, openly praised India’s government for organising such a successful event.
Africa’s quest for global voice
African governments and the AU have been vying for a larger representation in international foras such as G20 for some time now. Early in January 2023, when India hosted the ‘Voice of the Global South Summit’, the leaders of over 100 developing and underdeveloped countries participated in that virtual summit, underscoring their faith in India’s leadership across the global south. As the call for the AU’s membership in the G20 grew louder during the summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent personal messages to all his G20 counterparts requesting to accept the permanent membership of the African Union.
And the most pivotal moment of the 18th G20 summit occurred in the very first hour of the gathering when PM Modi, using three bangs of the presidential gavel, declared the upgraded status of the AU as a permanent member. PM Modi stood up to give the President of the Comoros and head of the union, Azali Assoumani, a warm embrace. A few moments later, President Assoumani was led to his already-assigned chair with his nameplate by S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs. And thus came the watershed moment in the history of G20 summits. African Union became a permanent member of the exclusive Group of 20. This makes the African Union (AU) equivalent to the European Union, the only regional bloc with a full membership in the G20.
Undoubtedly, it was a defining success for Indian diplomacy, which managed to persuade the G20 members to agree to the Indian proposal of granting AU permanent membership. Although AU’s bid to become a permanent member of the Group has been gathering momentum for a few years, the African continent benefited from India’s decisive leadership. Further, the inclusion of the AU in G20 resonates well with India’s fundamental principles, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, or one planet, one family, one future.
Officials and academics have long debated the merits of the AU joining the G20 as a full member. Those in favour argue that the G20 will now become more inclusive and robust. And it will cover around 80% of humanity, as opposed to the current 65%. Thus, it will strengthen the Group’s moral standing and advance the cause of justice and fairness. The inclusion of the AU in the G20 would also broaden international alliances and create new opportunities for collaboration.
India’s G20 Presidency strengthens its Africa connection
The Kampala Principles, enunciated by Prime Minister Modi in Uganda’s parliament in 2018, continue to serve as the foundation for India’s Africa policy. This relationship was formalised in 2008 with the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS). Indeed, since its inception, the IAFS has emerged as one of African leaders’ largest regular diplomatic gatherings. There have been three editions of IAFS, held in India in 2008, Ethiopia in 2011, and India again in 2015. Fifty-four nations from Africa participated in the 2015 Summit, a historic milestone. The IAFS 4, scheduled to take place in 2021, got postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now will take place anytime soon. In any case, the AU’s entry into G20 will provide India with another platform to engage with Africa at a continental level.
In addition to enabling the AU’s admission to the G20 club, Indian PM Modi also separately met with the presidents of Nigeria and Comoros, who were also special invitees to the summit. The SAGAR project and India’s draft blue economy policy statement align with the African Union’s (AU) 2050 Africa’s Maritime Strategy and the AU’s 2019 Africa Blue Economy Strategy. The “Blue Economy” will grow as a result of India and African nations’ cooperation, which will also increase marine security. Considering its location, Comoros is well positioned to have a huge impact on India’s Sagar ambition.
With a GDP of $510 billion, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. It is also the most populous nation of Africa. Recently, Nigeria secured investment pledges from several Indian companies and the Indian government, totalling close to $14 billion. As a follow-up, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu attended the G20 summit to attract similar investments in different key sectors for Nigerian economy such as steel, petrochemicals, power generation, and defence. The importance of his visit is reflected in the grandeur of his high-level delegation, which included four Ministers: Foreign Affairs, Finance, and coordination of the economy, as well as Communications, innovation, and the digital economy and Industry, trade, and investment. During the sideline of the summit, India India-Nigeria bilateral meeting resulted in several key agreements.
One such agreement is of $1 billion, where the Indian government would work with the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria towards its self-sufficiency. The agreement posits an ambitious target for Nigeria to obtain at least 40% self-sufficiency in the manufacturing and production of defence equipment within three years. Nigeria is also interested in purchasing Indian-made Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) “Prachand,” Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) “Dhruv.” Finally, Nigeria is interested in technology transfers for drones and more modern armoured personnel carriers. All of these will significantly increase India’s collaboration with Nigeria and beyond in Africa.
Over the years, G20 has become an important forum, and it is expected to provide some solutions to major global concerns like economic growth, climate catastrophe, energy transition, sustainable development, debt burdens, women’s empowerment, and the digital economy as the world’s leading forum for international economic and other cooperation. Meanwhile, African communities are disproportionately susceptible to the consequences of these global challenges. Therefore, Afrocentric leadership and voices are essential for any real solution.
With a seat at the main G20 table, Africa will finally have a direct representation in all discussions and decisions where they will be able to voice their concerns. Clearly, African nations have a rightful place at the table, and its inclusion is the first step towards correcting a historical injustice. Furthermore, with several tangible outcomes, India’s decisive leadership and championing of the voice of the global south received widespread acclaim. By working to secure a permanent seat for the African Union in the alliance, India demonstrated the sincerity of its message that there is “one earth, one family, and one future”. Therefore, India’s G20 can truly be termed as a tribute to its friendship with Africa.