BRICS, G20 focus on Africa as new force of attraction

In 2023 BRICS and G20 have conducted their historical Summits in South Africa and India respectively. In August’s Summit, BRICS increased the number of member states from six to eleven. Similarly, in September of the same year, G20 increased its permanent member and became G21. Both Summits have given wider attention to Africa. The theme of BRICS was “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism”. The theme of the G20 Summit of 2023 was “One Earth, One Family, One Future”.

Both BRICS and G20 are not organized based on a single ideology or religious sect. For instance, China is following Socialist ideology, whereas Western countries are following Capitalist ideology. But both are in the Group of the G20. In the religious aspect, Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, and Iran have just joined BRICS. Whereas India, which is a member of BRICS is dominated by the Hindu religion. Many other members are also dominated by Christian religious followers. Because of this background, we can say that both BRICS and G20 are organized based on common political and economic interests rather than ideology and religious similarities.

Out of the six newly admitted members in the BRICS, two of them are from African countries i.e. Ethiopia and Egypt. Similarly, the African Union has become one of the permanent members of the G20. Sources show that the African Union applied for membership in G20 seven years ago. At the BRICS Summit, it was said that the bloc would support the African Union’s desire for membership in the G20. President Putin didn’t attend the 2023 Summits of BRICS and G20. President Xi Jinping attended the 2023 BRICS Summit but not the G20 Summit.

Some people said that the year 2023 is time for Africa as the famous singer Shakira said “Waka Waka” (This Time for Africa). It is indeed the time for Africa to join the blocs of great powers and become part of the game changer. Both the BRICS and the G20 Summits show that Africa has become the center of gravity for the current international political and economic rivalries.

The G20 was established in 1999 and had its first Summit in 2008. It was established for global responses to the Asian financial crisis. On the other hand, BRIC (later BRICS, and BRICS+) was established in 2009 as a strategic alliance to address the interests of developing and emerging market countries. There are overlapping memberships in both blocs. China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia are members of both blocs. African countries are also represented in both blocs.

China is a glue to BRICS since its economic relations with many of them are very strong. For instance, China has become “the first trading partner of Russia, Brazil, and South Africa and the second trading partner of India. China is the first major export market of Brazil and South Africa, the third major export market of India”.

There are many reasons why Africa has become the center of gravity for both BRICS and G20. To begin with, Africa has vast natural resources which can benefit the member states through trade and manufacturing. There is big energy potential in oil, wind, solar, thermal, and hydropower energy. There are also about 1.4 billion population in Africa. It is also estimated that by 2050 the population number will be 2.5 billion. The present number and the projections show that Africa can be a large market for the products of member states. Out of this large population, more than 60% of them are under the age of 25. This is an ample workforce for the present and future time. On the other hand population of the well-developed countries is dominated by aged people. Thus Africa will fill the gap of shortage of manpower for their industries, agriculture, and other sectors.

The other reason is that Africa’s economy will likely continue to grow in the coming years. Currently, Africa’s GDP is estimated to be three trillion USD. Moreover, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which was established in 2018 will also be one of the world’s largest free trade areas. These can be considered as opportunities to the two blocs.

Making Africa as part of their bloc will increase the voting support in various multilateral forums. For instance, BRICS plus members or G20 plus members can come up with one position for critical international issues in the United Nations General Assembly. Taking this assumption into consideration, the G20 can secure an additional 55 supporting votes from the African Union.

If Africa speaks with one voice in the G20 it can influence in global issues. But, can the African Union come up with one voice of the total 55 countries? This will be the future challenge in working with G20. The trend, however, shows that African countries hold different positions on one issue. For instance at the time of the UNGA, out of the 55 countries of Africa 16 African countries abstained on the issue of Russia-Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution that denounced Russia. Significant numbers of African countries were in favor of the resolution.

Even the three “A”s i.e. the non-permanent members of Africa in the United Nations Security Council have no unity in voting on one issue. From this sample voting structure, it is clear that the African Union will face great challenges in speaking as one voice. Thus, to use the opportunity at hand Africa’s attempt to speak with one voice must be strengthened.

As a continental organization, the African Union is the second to be a permanent member of the G20 next to the European Union (EU). The EU has developed more than 300 common positions approved by the European Union Council and the European Parliament. Members of the European Union have also given some of their sovereignty rights to the continental organization. Thus the decision of the EU can be implemented in member states equally.

Unlike the African Union, the European Union has a continental foreign policy. This is also a binding factor for the European Union. The African Union should also develop a common position on important issues. The Pan-African Parliament should upscale its function from the advisory role to the legislative role for the continent. Otherwise, the African Union will not be effective in representing the continental organization’s interest in the G20 bloc.

As mentioned above, even if both the European Union and the African Union are continental organizations, they have become permanent members of the G20 bloc. Can this be an exemplary precedent for making the African Union to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council? It can be a lesson for the great powers to think about it and make this world inclusive in making decisions in the international arena.

Africa has a lot of challenges to be solved. Joining such influential blocs can help to solve the problems of the continent. Africa is getting about 65% of its budget from foreign support. In 2022 Africa’s total public debt reached about 1.8 trillion dollars, since 2020 about seven coup d’état have been conducted, corruption is extremely very high, human rights violation is rampant, poverty is public news in Africa, terrorism, piracy, illegal migration, illicit flow (finance, arms, drug), dictatorship governance, high unemployment, the impact of climate change, intra and interstate wars, large number of internally displaced people are some of the challenges that exist in Africa. To be a good partner to G20, there is a need to work on the above challenges. If African countries can properly do their homework, developed countries can also chip in to solve some of the challenges of Africa.

G20 works on trade, finance, health, education, culture, energy, climate, digital economy, and artificial intelligence. It is also concerned about corruption, terrorism, money laundering, and other negative factors for human development. These agendas can also be agendas of the African countries. Thus African Union should use this opportunity to get partners in solving problems. If Africa can solve its internal challenges properly, it can get a chance to negotiate in the global order. Otherwise, its membership will support the national interests of developed countries by being a rubber stamp in multilateral forums.

To sum up, joining BRICS and G20 is a good opportunity for African countries to get a voice in the global arena. Being a member of these influential blocs is one thing, to contribute and to get benefit is another thing. Africa should solve its internal problems and be a good partner to BRICS Plus and G21. Historically Africa has often been excluded from making decisions on global issues. Now it is time to say “Waka Waka”.

(This author is a researcher in International Relations and Diplomacy,

Institute of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia


The Ethiopian Herald October 5/2023

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