Convergence and divergence of national and continental interests in the G21

 On September 26, 1999 the G20 or Group of 20 was established to address the Asian financial crises and to discuss the global economic and financial issues. It had been an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 sovereign countries and the European Union. In establishing the G20 there was a discussion on African representation. Then, they agreed to make South Africa as one of the permanent members in the G20. One research account says, “South Africa was invited to join the new forum because of its systemic importance, both globally and regionally. One consideration in this decision was the important focus of the new Group on financial stability rather than on development issues.”

G20 is an informal forum, without a charter and voting structure i.e. no veto power in the bloc. Members are interacting as equal to reach consensus. Their decision is not also legally binding. Moreover, G20 has “no permanent secretariat or staff. Secretariat services are provided by the chair country”. But this doesn’t mean serious decisions will not pass by the bloc. In implementing the decision, there can be differences among the members based on their economy, political situation and influences.

In the 2023 Summit the G20 has decided to make the African Union as one of the permanent members. Thus G20 updated itself to be G-twenty first (G21) in the twenty first century. This reform is the first of its kind in the G20. The AU and the EU are not national entities. Thus, currently the G21 has two continental organizations as members i.e. the European Union and the African Union. In my previous piece I raised the following question-Can it be a precedence to make the African Union permanent member in the United Nations Security Council in the future? Of course it is too early to predict in advance, but there is a possibility.

South Africa has also the advantage of discussing the agenda of G21 in both at the AU level and at the G21 level. African countries should appreciate South Africa for transforming itself quickly from being victim of apartheid to be one of the strongest African countries and joining big blocs of G20 and BRICS. In this situation South Africa has also become voice to the rest of African countries in these big blocs. Now, the situation is being changed i.e. Ethiopia and Egypt have joined BRICS Bloc, and the African Union has joined the G20 Bloc. This will minimize the burden of South Africa in working for the interests of other African countries.

The G21 has put South Africa and the African Union on equal footing since both are permanent members to the bloc. This is to mean that South Africa has the right to support or oppose the agenda of the African Union in the G21 forum. Similarly, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom are members to both G21 and the European Union. If there is convergence between the national and continental interests, there is no problem to pass decisions in the G21 forum. What if there is a divergence position between the two interests?

Some critical agendas of the G21 can be dangerous for the member states to speak in one voice. For example, if the United Nations wanted to give one seat for Africa as permanent member in the Security Council and if both the continental organization (AU) and South Africa wanted to be permanent member, what would happen? Similarly, if Germany and the European Union wanted to be permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, what would happen?

Nowadays, the five permanent members of the Security Council are voicing for the reform of the Council and to increase the number of members. UN Secretary- General António Guterres has made proposals to reform the UN just after he came to office in January 2017 saying “to align them with the realities of today’s world.” Recently, the USA and others are also saying that Africa should be represented in the Security Council as permanent member. I am not sure whether it is just lip service or genuine voice to make the UNSC inclusive and solve the legitimacy crisis of global governances. If we believe them as true, the agenda can also spark conflict of interests.

In the 2023 Declaration of BRICS, Article 7 Says

“We support a comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council… and support the legitimate aspirations of emerging and developing countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America, including Brazil, India and South Africa, to play a greater role in international affairs, in particular in the United Nations, including its Security Council.”

From the above BRICS decision it is clear that South Africa has ambition to be one of the permanent members of the UNSC. Now, Egypt and Ethiopia have also become members of BRICS. Can the bloc also give similar support to Ethiopia and Egypt to be permanent member in the UNSC? Will South Africa oppose the additional nomination of African countries in the BRICS bloc? Who is to nominate member to the UNSC that can represent Africa? Is it BRICS or the African Union? Whose decision overrides the other? Will BRICS oppose the African Union if it needs to be permanent member of the UNSC? So, the devil is in the details.

It is well known that when Britain was part of the European Union, there was divergence position in using Euro as currency i.e. Britain wanted to continue using its own Pound than Euro. This is an example of divergence between national interest and continental interest. In the later period Brexit happened because of divergence interests between them on multifaceted issues.

According to Britain, Brexit (leaving the European Union) has various benefits that includes controlling of their own money, the freedom to regulate their own business, protecting their values, as sovereign country to defend their own national interests, improving their rights and choices as consumers, establishing security and defense partnerships with key allies around the world, conducting new trade deals and strategic partnership with others and the like.

In my personal opinion, this practical example of Brexit is a possible scenario for the future relationships between South Africa and the African Union in running for permanent membership in the Security Council. In Africa it is not uncommon to see divergence interest between member states and continental organization that may lead to leave from membership. Morocco is an example to leave the Organization of African Unity/OAU (the later the African Union) because of divergence position of the continental organization and Morocco. Morocco left OAU in 1984, protesting on the body’s recognition of the Western Sahara. Morocco rejoined the continental organization after 33 years of absence.

Those European countries, which are member in both the G20 and the EU have strong influences in the continent. Even they can put pressure on the EU through the G20. One research stated that, “The largest European countries, which are also the most powerful within the EU’s decision-making, are the only EU Member States directly represented at the G20… When these countries cannot get their preferred policies within the European Council, they may try to push through their policies independently at the G20 level.” South Africa can also get this chance to influence the African Union by her decision role in the G21.

Who will impact more-AU on G21 or G21 on AU? In my opinion, because of the presence of great powers in the G21, the latter will be more pronounced i.e. G21 will have more impact on the AU than the reverse. But to minimize the impact and to work with great powers, the AU should exploit and apply its comparative and competitive advantages properly and wisely. G21 has made the former colonial powers and colonized Africans to seat together. It is a paradigm shift to make Africa part of the decision making process in the global governance. It is a move from “Scramble for Africa to scramble for global agendas”.

In explaining about the role of the EU in the G20 a research stated that, “The EU has been one of the best students of the G20 class in following up on G20 decisions.” Now, the AU and EU will be in the same class of G21. So what will be the rank of the AU in the G21 class? Will the AU be as good as the EU or there will be challenges? In my opinion, the EU can be successful in the bloc because of the presence of foreign policy of the continent as well as the presence of 300 common positions of member states in the European Union that have been ratified by the Council of the continental organization.

When we come to the African Union, we do not find both continental foreign policy and hundreds of common potions ratified by the concerned body of the AU. The Pan African Parliament has only an advisory role than legislative role like that of the European Parliament. Because of these challenges African Union will face problem of generating common positions on various agendas of the G21. This shows that the AU should upgrade itself so as to be a good student in the G21 class. Otherwise the old abusing term that says “White Man’s Burden” will come again with a new brand.

Joining the G20 means the Agendas of the bloc will directly or indirectly be the agendas of the African Union. Similarly some of the agendas of the African Union will be the agendas of the bloc. This is because, as permanent member of the G21, the AU also has the right to table its own agendas. This may force the AU to consult its member states to come up with common positions on the agenda of the G21. But can the AU get common positions always? Or the AU will remain on the abstain positions in the G21 decisions? Will the AU be flooded by the agendas of the G21 that may put more burdens on member states and the continental organization? Will Africa’s conflict and problems overcrowd the agenda of G21? Can we see “G21 Solution to African Problem?” We will cross the river when we get there.

This author is a Researcher in International Relations and Diplomacy



 Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald


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