From G20 to G21: India's Dynamic Global South Leadership
Arindam Goswami

Today, India’s position has transitioned from a participant to a notable leader, adopting the position of a distinct and significant voice for the Global South, within the domains of the international community. Such evolution has been highlighted by India's attempts to promote inclusion, and strengthen the connectedness among nations. One significant testament to India's growing influence is its deepening engagement with Africa, intertwined with historical accounts, mutual anti-colonial liberation movements, diasporas’ connections, and a shared commitment to amplifying the voices of the Global South. This alignment now marks a pivotal moment in history as the African Union assumes its rightful place as a permanent participant in the recent G20 summit held in New Delhi, further solidifying the global impact of India's leadership.

Since independence, India sought to provide moral and economic support to African countries battling colonialism, and used a variety of forums, including the United Nations General Assembly, to emphasise the horrors of colonialism. India initiated its development cooperation project two years after gaining its independence, despite facing significant development hurdles. Anti-colonialism, the sharing of development expertise and solidarity with the "third world" were the guiding themes of India's development cooperation. The post-war global assistance scene was mostly dominated by the West, which was primarily focused on maintaining unequal relations between the Global North and the Global South, making these ideas of enormous normative relevance at the time. India's capacity-building measures have greatly benefited African nations, and India continues to give the continent special consideration in its foreign policy, being the voice of the global south (Chakrabarty 2023).

Although being one of the main focuses, an examination of the G20 agenda with regard to Africa demonstrated that different presidencies have paid varying amounts of attention to the continent (Mabera 2019). One such issue was the inclusion of the African Union in the forum for a permanent seat, raised in the G20 summit of 2022 in Indonesia. The proposition, however, was not formally tabled during the summit process. While serving as the Chairperson of the African Union, Macky Sall, President of Senegal, promoted the cause. Understanding that the G20 comprises the world's top nations, accounting for two-thirds of the worldwide population and nearly 85% of global GDP, it was essential to have Africa, the world's eighth-largest economy, and the voice of 1.37 billion people, detrimental to long-term sustainable economic advancement (Khosa 2023). Only when India had the G20 presidency did the subject of AU's complete engagement in the G20 group gain momentum. While holding the presidency, India advocated for a more equitable and inclusive global order, emphasising the significance of Africa to the international community. With the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, One Earth, One World, One Future’, India was determined to understand the perspectives and views of individuals from the Global South, particularly those from the African continent, on the region's common issues and objectives and ensure that the goals were met.

The G-20 membership provides the African Union an immense opportunity for African countries to face challenges such as debt reduction, equality, uneven representation, etc. Some argue that, in comparison to the EU, the AU is a less effective organisation that, among other things, lacks a united currency. Despite these challenges, India's desire for African Union membership recognises African states as equal actors in the global arena. India has used its diplomatic clout to push the African Union's participation in the G20 decision-making process with a number of G20 members expressing their support for the AU involvement. Among them are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Germany, Indonesia, and Japan. Prime Minister Modi has often declared that Africa is India's top priority.

The AU's membership to the G20 will result in increased engagement of the African continent and prioritisation of African economic and development issues at the G20 level. Given that the EU and AU share similar goals, the EU's G20 involvement (represented by the European Commission and the European Council) serves as a model for AU membership (Mogul and Suri 2023). The African Union becoming a full member of the G20 will not only allow Africa to participate in discussions about issues that directly affect the continent, but it will also increase the credibility of the G20, which will then represent approximately 80% of the world's population, up from 60% now. Although South Africa has been the sole African member in the G20 until recently, it struggled to achieve a balance between its own internal interests and those of other African countries, whose national agendas and demographics are vastly different. The introduction of the AU will expand the means of representation that the European Union (EU), together with individual states such as France, Germany, and Italy, reflects as a G20 member. This has an influence on African attempts inside the G20 to advance their interests, agency, and voices.

Moreover, the inclusion of the AU in G20 creates a path for mutual benefit. Firstly, the African Union can symbolise a continent rich in resources critical to mitigating climate change with possessing 60% of the world's renewable energy resources, as well as around 30% of the minerals necessary for creating renewable and low-carbon technologies. As reiterated by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, “Climate change, environmental degradation, unsustainable consumption and production and resource scarcity are challenges that can only be addressed collectively and with a great deal of solidarity.” At the same time, the African leaders are keen to stimulate more industrial growth on the continent, beyond resource extraction and processing, in order to boost their own economies (Times of India 2023). Meanwhile, critical minerals necessary for technological growth and long-term energy supply are available throughout the continent which is necessary for the other members. Furthermore, the AU has been advocating for significant positions in global organisations such as the United Nations Security Council where their role determines necessary developments as well as calling for reforms in the global financial institutions for which the G20 membership holds a strategic key in enhancing their voice on the global stage.

Africa's prosperity holds immense significance within the framework of India's foreign policy objectives, and it plays a pivotal role in fostering a truly multipolar world. India has consistently advocated for increased African representation in international forums. To paraphrase External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who reaffirmed India's stance, emphasising India to hold a strong conviction that the advancement and development of Africa play a fundamental role in the broader global efforts to rebalance the world. Thus, we can conclude by saying that the inclusion of the African Union in G20 is considered to be a significant achievement for India. It showcases India’s commitment to prioritise the development agenda and voice of the global south; because the rise and prosperity of Africa holds immense significance within the framework of India's foreign policy objectives, and it plays a pivotal role in fostering a truly multipolar world.


(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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