G20-Africa engagement: Finding a roadmap to shared development

G20 2018 Leaders Summit, Buenos Aires, Argentina Image: Getty, Daniel Jayo

As a club of the world’s largest economies, the G20 determines the future of global economic governance.

The G20 thus plays an important role in global rulemaking, beyond the individual interests of its members. Africa is significantly under-represented, with only South Africa a permanent member. Given that Africa has been a rule-taker since its decolonisation, its limited participation in this grouping runs the risk of perpetuating this situation. Africa and other less developed regions are full blown members of the international community with a vested interest in the future of global governance. The continent still faces huge developmental challenges, but it has also projected much stronger agency in recent years. Yet in discussions about the future world order, Africa is a participant, not an observer.

Recently the G20 has started to pay more attention to Africa, and the continent’s future development now occupies a somewhat more central position on the grouping’s agenda. The G20 Initiative on Supporting Industrialization in Africa and Least Developed Countries, launched under China’s G20 presidency of 2016, and the 2017 German presidency’s Compact with Africa offered unprecedented moments of engagement. However, the question remains how Africa can use these initiatives to deepen its engagement with the G20 and boost its own development. This paper draws on extensive interviews with key stakeholders to analyse G20–Africa engagement by focusing on three presidencies: China in 2016, Germany in 2017, and Argentina in 2018. It shows how China’s Industrialisation Initiative was crucially informed by its pre-existing African engagement, while Germany’s Compact with Africa both gained and suffered from a more narrowly focused commercial engagement. It then shows how Argentina, despite lacking a similar African initiative, managed to continue G20–Africa engagement through person-to-person diplomacy. The paper points out both the benefits and the limits of these engagements. It suggests a series of further initiatives that could allow Africa a more significant say in the G20.