Since its inception in 2006, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) has been at the forefront of changing perceptions about the African continent. The 2023 Forum Report Global Africa: Africa in the world and the world in Africa does just that, mapping Africa’s huge potential and assets in today’s world and shedding a light on the ever-expanding variety of partners that are engaged on the continent.
The report also assesses Africa’s representativeness in the current multilateral architecture, still beyond inadequate – a central point in the 2023 Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) high-level discussions, which took place in Nairobi from 28-30 April. This was our first in-person event since COVID-19 hit the continent, and it was truly a unique convening of the greatest African minds to chart together the path to our continent’s bright future.
The world is changing around us. All of the previous assumptions, and let us face it, the previous order, are being broken. Challenges such as climate change or COVID-19 know of no borders and call for shared solutions, there are different powers rising, ever-evolving geo-strategic balances. So where exactly is Africa’s place here, with its ever-growing youth, key natural resources, diverse geography and history? Time is gone to underestimate Africa, talk down to Africa or give instructions to Africa. Do not take Africa for granted.
It is great news that momentum is now building behind the case for a reform of the multilateral financial system. In particular, there is the issue of a permanent G20 seat for the African Union (AU), which I have been personally advocating for years in various forums, including an article for the centennial edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. The G20's fundamental virtue is its ability to be representative: broader than the G7, but still small enough to fit around one table. It comprises twenty governments – 19 major states plus the European Union (EU) – defined by their “systemic importance to the global economy”.
Quite what 'systemic' means is open to interpretation. That ambiguity helps to explain why Africa, home to almost one in five people in the world (and rising), is unfairly represented in just one of the G20 seats: that of South Africa. By comparison, Europe, home to under one in ten people globally, holds five seats: Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and the EU.
Proposed last year by President Macky Sall, who was AU Chairperson at the time, the idea of an AU seat at the G20 has now been endorsed by the French, US and German governments, as well as those of key developing economies such as Brazil, China and Indonesia. The G7 summit in May 2023 was a historical development, as for the first time the AU was invited as an observer. The G7 conclusions also echoed the general sentiment for a reinforced representation of Africa in international forums. But words still need to translate into action. Knowing this, in June India also threw its support behind the AU with a letter sent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to all G20 leaders proposing full, permanent membership for the AU at the upcoming summit hosted by India.
More recently, at the Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact (22-23 June 2023) it was great to witness African heads of state and government speaking with one common and assertive voice, advocating for a more equal multilateral system – with the backing of, among others, President Macron and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. I also welcome that the European Council stated its backing on 30 June 2023 – supporting the AU consensus on how it should represent itself on the G20 should be common sense for an organisation, the EU, whose only close international counterpart is the AU itself.
Now the question is whether an agreement can emerge in time for the G20 summit taking place in New Delhi on 9-10 September to go down in history as the first G21 summit, with the AU as a full, permanent member. The clock is ticking.