In a historic move, the African Union has secured a permanent place in the Group of 20, also known as the G20, a development that could have major implications for Africa’s role in global geopolitics. 

As the continent faces an array of challenges, ranging from climate change to political instability and economic inequality, experts disagree on how big an impact G20 membership will have as the AU joins 20 of the world’s largest economies.

Robert Besseling, chief executive officer of Pangea-Risk, an intelligence advisory group based in South Africa and Britain, told VOA it is more of a symbolic development than a substantive event.

“The AU seat at the G20 will be meaningless,” Besseling said, if the African body cannot react decisively to events that include “the spree of military coups and irregular elections that have set back Africa’s democratic trajectory in recent months.”

Seven African countries have experienced military-led coups since 2020, most recently Gabon and Niger, raising questions about political stability, the lack of which makes it harder to address pressing issues like terrorism and food shortages in many countries.

Dennis Matanda, adjunct professor of American politics and international business at Catholic University, told VOA English to Africa Service’s TV program “Africa 54” that Africa’s membership in the G20 could pay dividends.

“There is a real opportunity here for the African Union to come to the table. And that is a strength, and that is the opportunity,” he said. He added that “the significance here is that for the first time, the African Union is being juxtaposed with the European Union.”

Besseling, however, has doubts about the AU’s ability to act cohesively.

He also said the AU’s membership in the G20 is mainly driven by tensions on the world stage between competing alliances.

“The G20 is increasingly becoming a counterweight to the China-led BRICS, and the AU’s entry should be viewed in that same context of geopolitical rivalry,” Besseling said.

On a more positive note, Besseling said the AU’s entry into the G20 may help diversify global alliances and open new avenues for cooperation.

Matanda said it is time for African nations to defend their own interests and not be used to further the objectives of global powers.

“I think we need to stop thinking about what the other places want, what China wants, what Europe wants, and start the process of generating Africa’s own narrative,” Matanda said. “Africa, the African Union, needs to undertake a comprehensive assessment of its opportunities. And the primary opportunity here is the region’s development finance institutions.”

As the G20 evolves into a forum of considerable influence, the AU’s presence amplifies the continent’s voice within this arena, he said.

“If they’re going to have global capital playing in Africa, you need to come to the table with the best people who can actually control the finances and basically channel those resources to the opportunities that achieve the most effective impact for the region,” Matanda said. “And from that perspective, we need to remember that the African Union can be all it wants to be, but it needs to have more power.”

This story originated in the Africa Division. English to Africa’s Esther Githui-Ewart contributed to the report.

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