This policy brief advocates for the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 for ethical reasons.
The G20 or Group of Twenty is one of the most powerful multilateral platforms today. It plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global governance on all major international economic issues. Its key achievements include cooperation on tax transparency, increasing female participation in the workforce, enhancingfood security, and reducing the debt burden on the world’s poorest countries.
The G20 has one major limitation. Fortunately, this limitation – that it leaves out 96% of Africa’s population – can be easily remedied by including the African Union.
There are many political, social, economic and governance reasons for adding the African Union to the G20
This values-driven policy brief argues that the African Union should be included in the G20 to promote the values of fairness, respect, care and honesty.
On participatory fairness, the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 would represent a masterstroke of fairness combined with efficiency, in that it would grant representation to 54 more countries than the status quo, with just one additional seat.
On substantive fairness, African countries are suffering disproportionate losses due to climate change. The burden of championing African interests in the G20 should no longer rest on South Africa alone.
Externally driven G20 initiatives can consign Africa to a passive and consultative role, which runs counter to the value of respect. Inclusion of the African Union in the G20 would meet this concern.
To leave no-one behind is a central promise of Agenda 2030. This requires an ethics of care and support. With the current finance and borrowing mechanisms driven by the G20, African governments cannot support their populations appropriately.
The G20 has called for stronger global cooperation, praised the strengths of regional ownership by the African Union, and reiterated its support for Africa. The necessary step, to show the G20’s honesty of intention and integrity, is to follow through with a G21.
Procedural fairness, fair processes, and participatory fairness require that every country should have a seat at a decision- making table that discusses our common future and the most important world issues affecting us all.
"The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double by 2050 while Europe’s population continues to shrink. Over the same period, Africa is likely to have the fastest urban growth rate."
The current urban populations of Cairo (21 million), Lagos (15 million), and Kinshasa (15 million) illustrate this trend. Africa only has one seat at the G20 table, that of South Africa. This means that 96% of Africa’s population is currently not represented at the G20. In 2021, South Africa had a smaller GDP than Nigeria ($419 billion in comparison with $441 billion), but it shoulders the responsibility of representing an entire continent.
One could argue that efficiency requirements make it impossible to grant procedural fairness (in the form of national representation) in every forum, and that all countries are, in any case, represented at the United Nations. Indeed, one of the strengths of the G20 is that it operates with an efficiency that allows for quicker and more flexible problem-solving. Yet by including the EU, the group accommodated, at a stroke, input from 27 countries in a coordinated way that did not jeopardize efficiency.
A similar masterstroke is possible today. The inclusion of the African Union would bring all 55 African countries into the G20, thus giving representation to 54 countries more than the status quo, at the cost of just one additional seat.
The minimum requirement of substantive fairness is that one should not be harmed by others. The countries of the African Union are responsible for around 3.6% of global carbon emission, represent 18% of the global population, and lose 5% to 15% of GDP due to climate change – and yet they have no seat at the G20 decision- making table, where climate change and other causes of global economic crises are discussed, and consequent action decided upon.
A seat for the African Union – a G21, in other words – would enable Africa to push for more substantive fairness on climate change and global economic policies.
The G20 formulated a response to COVID-19 for Africa when only South Africa was formally a member of the G20. The response aimed to “help protect and assist the most vulnerable and those most at-risk because of the pandemic, who generally suffer disproportionate impacts, including women and girls, youth, people withdisabilities, the elderly, migrants, refugees, displaced people, and indigenous people”.
It has been argued that “all these G20 initiatives consign Africa to a passive, consultative, or at best diminutive role”, which runs counter to the value of respect. Adding the African Union to the G20 would address this concern while only adding one seat.
African countries need access to key global decision-making bodies to advocate for structures and policies that care for the needs of the poor and leave no-one behind. The G20 is such a body.
In 2021, the G20 High Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response report argued that
in a historically unprecedented way, security for people around the world now depends on global cooperation.
The report also noted that “ the current pandemic has demonstrated the strengths of regional ownership, e.g. the major initiatives taken by the African Union”.
In 2022, under the Indonesian presidency, G20 Heads of States were “deeply concerned that multidimensional crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as lack of fiscal space and unequal access to finance and technology, are posing significant challenges towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The G20 Heads of States declared: “We also reiterate our continued support to Africa”.
The G20 could prove its fidelity, honesty, and transparency in relation to previously expressed support for Africa by admitting the African Union into its ranks.
To promote fairness, respect, care, and honesty and to permit better preparation for the next global pandemic, the admission of the African Union into the G20 is recommended.
-Sachin Chaturvedi, Pamla Gopaul, Stephan Klingebiel, Klaus Leisinger, Michael Makanga, Thomas Pogge, Riatu Qibthiyyah, Jeffrey Sachs, Doris Schroeder, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Peter Singer