Unlike most G20 Summits, the one held in Buenos Aires in Argentina in 2018 was marred by many evident and unconcealed global challenges. The global markets were reacting negatively to the U.S.-launched trade war with China. In Europe, Britain is battling with Brexit matters, seeking a national consensus on ways of leaving the European Union (EU). France on the other hand, has seen large numbers of demonstrators on streets opposing President Macron’s economic reforms. Russia’s conflict with Ukraine is worsening with the seizing of Ukrainian ships over disputed waters and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two other G20 members, have been locking horns over the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The global media focused squarely on these matters, leaving Africa unattended and its own economic challenges unheard. What are Africa’s issues that were largely ignored in Argentina?
South Africa is the only G20 African member and President Cyril Ramaphosa had three major issues to raise. First, to signal South Africa’s openness to business. Since he took over from former President Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa has repositioned and refocused the country from many scandals. Second, South Africa wants to raise $100 billion in investments from the international community in the next five years. The G20 Summit therefore presented Ramaphosa with an excellent opportunity to sell the country to potential investors. The third and most important item on Ramaphosa’s agenda was the African agenda. As the only African member state in the G20, South Africa actively represents views and positions of the African Union (AU).
Collectively, Africans want to see transformation of the institutions of both political and economic governance, including the G20. One of the outcomes of the G20 speaks to the need to reform the group. Although this is good news for Africa, the challenge, however, will be how to go about this reform. South Africa should work closely with the AU and BRICS to devise ways and means of actively participating in the process of restructuring the G20. What is central in this effort is the G20 ought to be restructured in the manner that African economic issues receive better attention.
Africa expected the G20 to come up with a practical plan to assist the continent in its quest to rapidly industrialize and fund massive infrastructure undertakings. The African Development Bank estimated that Africa requires $93 billion per annum to close the infrastructure gap on the continent. From an African perspective, the G20 failed to address these fundamental African matters in Buenos Aires.
Africa ought to seek close trade among itself and with those willing to advance multilateralism. As it stands, the U.S. President Donald Trump has demonstrated the willingness to pull America from most multilateral forums in which it once occupied a leadership role. Coupled by what appears to be the disintegration of the EU shown by Brexit, Africa should continue strengthening its relationship with friendly countries in the global South, particularly China, Russia, India and Brazil.
The endless threat of trade wars and deliberate moves to undermine multilateralism will continue in the global arena. The current trade war truce between China and the United States does not give one sufficient confidence that it will end soon. Africa has no time to despair or disengage due to the currently dismal global outlook of the G20. It must continue advancing its Agenda 2063 with the help of those friendly nations that have been all-weather friends of the continent. Africa’s struggle to liberate its people from poverty can be achieved as long as it continues seeking multilateralism at a continental and global level.
(The writer is the director of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg)