African Union joins G20: a new era of influence and efficacy

The African Union's recent admission into the G20 sheds light on the organisation. How has it navigated its regional projects in spite of the current rave of coups in Gabon and Niger and four others in recent years

The African Union (AU) made history on 9 September when it secured a permanent seat at the G20 table, meaning it has joined the ranks of global economic giants. This pivotal moment marks a significant leap forward for the continent.

However, it raises pertinent questions about the AU’s ability to harness its newfound influence effectively. The African Union as a G20 member will come with positive and negative implications. How may this development reshape its role in addressing regional and global challenges?

The AU’s objectives and regional role

The African Union was officially launched in 2002 in Durban, South Africa and is made up of 55 countries. Moreover, the AU is also the direct successor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Since its inception, the African Union has made considerable efforts to achieve: an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.

African leaders at African Union launch 2002

To achieve this, the African Union has identified three key objectives: to promote unity and solidarity among African countries, to foster economic growth and sustainable development, and to strengthen peace and security.

The admission of the African Union into the G20 is a significant milestone for the continent. It is a recognition of the African Union’s efforts to improve the economic and social prosperity of the continent and its people. This admission will enable African leaders to be a part of the global dialogue on major issues and to have a voice in the international community. It will give African countries a greater say in global economic policy and open up new opportunities for trade and investment.

The AU’s new membership is not the only geopolitical change. Just this August, Egypt and Ethiopia were the two new African entries into BRICS. BRICS, which is another economic grouping, aims to harness the already economic prowess of its member states. This proves significant to Africa as gives its leaders more of a foothold in the global schema.

International organisations such as the United Nations have assisted African countries in terms of advocacy. However, economic integration groupings have proved beneficial for African countries. This is because there is closer proximity to the root causes of issues. Therefore, the African Union as a G20 member should improve Africa economic growth in the near future.

The African Union’s achievements and challenges

The AU has made some remarkable progress since 2002. The creation of the African Peace and Security Architecture(APSA) has allowed the African Union to bring African solutions to African problems. The APSA consists of the Peace and Security Council(PSC) which is charged with peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding. 

The AU has authorized 22 peace operations in Africa to date, through the African Standby force. In addition, they created the Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy(PCRD). Through the PCRD, liaison offices have been set up in 16 countries in emerging from conflict.

More recently has been the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2018, focusing on unity in development. AfCFTA aims to boost intra-African trade over 50% by 2025 as well as increase Africa’s income up to $450 billion by 2035. Arguably, a prominent feature of the AfCFTA is the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System(PAPPS). PAPPS will allow for a more modern and efficient way of making payments across Africa.

Some of the successes have come with challenges. The African Union suffers from resource constraints. There is generally a lack of resources and funding. There is also a lack of coordination among member states, one major reason stemming from overlapping memberships. The AU recognizes 8 regional economic communities(RECs) which are sub-regional groupings within the AU.  There are also several other regional groupings separate from the RECs. 

Overlapping Regional Organisations in Africa(Dr Ribeiro 2020)
Overlapping Regional Organisations in Africa(Dr Ribeiro 2020)

The AU also faces challenges from climate change and health. Rising temperatures have increased the proliferation od droughts and floods, disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. The outbreak of COVID-19 also exposed Africa’s limitations in healthcare. 

The conflicts and acts of terrorism of Nigeria and Mali which created spillovers have also created security challenges. Some of these challenges include the trafficking of drugs and children as well as the proliferation of weapons and small arms.

The consecutive coups in Burkina Faso, Mali to the current cases in Niger and Gabon unearth the growing political instability in Africa that can even be dated back to the decolonization process in the 60s. The subsequent impact is the lack of political will to implement policies, and the lack of a unified voice in global affairs. This directly affects the AU’s effectiveness especially in decision-making. The interests of hegemonic countries like South Africa and Nigeria are prioritized over smaller nations.

Opportunities and expectations

There could be many potential benefits of the African Union as a G20 member. These include enhanced diplomatic influence, increased financial resources and access to global decision-making. The G20 have already made significant strides in economic and social issues, from their COVID-19 action plan to the promotion women’s rights and leadership.

With the G20 membership, the African Union can leverage its status to tackle pressing issues like economic development, climate change and maintaining peace and security. Out of the 46 Least Developed Countries(LDCs), 33 are African countries. This automatically restricts Africa’s potential to engage in other social issues and creates a conducive environment for conflict.

Contributing the least to global emissions of greenhouse gases, Africa bears the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change. The African Union can reiterate some of the main issues and decisions made at the African Climate Summit. Even more crucial should be the advocacy of local stakeholders in Africa.

With the trend of coups in the recent years in Africa, there is a high possibility of spillover that could have a detrimental effect on African countries who may have more democratic resilience. Therefore, through G20 membership, the African Union could develop their post-conflict management. This can  ensure democracy and good governance as peace is favored by economic prosperity.

Challenges and the road ahead

The African Union has a lot to offer as a new member of the G20 with unique challenges and solutions to global issues. Nevertheless, challenges in security, weak leadership and the overlap of memberships can serve as a hindrance to the G20.

To promote a positive outcome, the AU must draw upon its rich history of regional cooperation and dedication to a prosperous, peaceful Africa. The world watches with anticipation to see how this continental organization will wield its newfound influence to foster positive change, not just within Africa but on the global stage.


Article written by Stacey Sam (Intern at Asaase 99.5 Accra)


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