It’s official: on Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the African Union (AU) was granted permanent membership status within the Group of 20, a collection of the world’s top economies. The announcement further bolstered Modi’s initiative to amplify the voice of the Global South during this year’s annual G20 summit hosted in New Delhi.
During his address, Modi sat behind a nameplate that identified his nation not as India but as “Bharat,” an ancient Sanskrit appellation, a move loved by Hindu nationalist supporters, and criticised amid opposition parties.
Modi made the AU membership announcement as he inaugurated the G20 summit for the weekend, kicking off the event on a win, at a time when increasing global divisions and the absence of key participants were posing challenges to a consensus on contentious issues.
In the run up to the G20, Indian officials had hinted at the overwhelmingly favourable responses from member nations towards including the AU in the G20. Being the second regional group after the European Union to attain permanent membership, the addition prompted concerns for some members that other regional blocs would also expect a seat at the table.
Modi confirmed this decision by tapping his gavel, earning applause from G20 member states. He warmly greeted Comoros President Azali Assoumani, the current chair of the AU, announcing “I invite the representative of the African Union to take his place as a permanent member of the G20”.
Modi has made championing the Global South’s voice a central theme of this year’s summit, and the early inclusion of the AU marks a significant win in that direction.
As the summit began, a few G20 leaders were notably absent from New Delhi. Russian and Chinese leaders chose not to attend, avoiding direct confrontations with their American and European counterparts over various disputes, particularly the Ukraine conflict. Spain’s president was unable to attend due to COVID-19, and Mexico’s president also opted out.
Preliminary gatherings prior to the conference proved unsuccessful in reaching consensus due to escalating divisions among the world’s major powers, primarily stemming from disagreements regarding Ukraine. Concluding the summit without a formal declaration of accord would emphasize the extent to which diplomatic relations have soured and could diminish the image that Modi has endeavoured to establish of India as a global mediator and solution-provider.
In addition to the AU’s inclusion as a permanent member, the agenda included other vital topics relevant to developing nations, from alternative energy sources like hydrogen, and resource efficiency, to the establishment of a unified framework for digital public infrastructure, and the issue of food security.
G20 countries were anticipated to address the reform of development banks like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, aiming to make funds more accessible to lower- and middle-income nations as they seek solutions to combat climate change and other challenges.
The summit unfolded just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that a pivotal agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain safely through the Black Sea would not be reinstated unless Western nations met his conditions regarding Russia’s own agricultural exports.
Despite observers and media speculation that the Ukraine – Russia conflict would impede G20 members from reaching a consensus and making a joint statement, the granting of full membership to the African Union at the G20 table marks a major win for Africa, for the Global South as a whole, and for India’s presidency of the G20.