The 2023 group of 20 (G20) meeting ended up as G21 after the African Union was admitted as a permanent member. It was one of the highlights of this year’s meeting held in New Delhi, India.
China and Russia were not represented by their presidents, leaving the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to get all the airtime and publicity. It is a meeting I would have loved to attend, having overflown India severally but never landed on this sub-continent famous for the Himalayas, medical tourism, software, pharmaceuticals and, more recently Bollywood.
Ever watched Kum Kum Bhangya, a Hindi Soup Opera with a local language voiceover? India is also “exporting” leaders, both political and corporate. Did I hear they want to change India’s name to Bharat, its Hindu fashion?
A few observations caught my attention in New Delhi. One is that the African Union got permanent membership into this elite group of industrialised countries. We should however see beyond this prestige.
What are the dividends for this young continent? Will Africa get industrialised through G21? Will Africa now become a net exporter instead of an importer? Will joining G20 accelerate the achievement of Africa’s free trade area?
What is there for Africa in G20?
Clearly, Africa is joining G20 as an equal, but the reality is that we are not equal to the other members of G20. They have big industrial sectors, and thriving exports of high-end products like machines, from planes to software like ChatGPT.
Will Africa learn from these countries? Does Africa have the minerals and other basic ingredients of industrialisation? What of the science and technology?
Can we process uranium? Gold? Copper among others? If Africa starts manufacturing, will there be a market for her goods and services? Will Wanjiku feel the membership in the G20 group?
Joining G20 is symbolic for Africa, the hard work begins. Joining groups like BRICS (grouping of economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) or G20 should be comparable to joining “Chamas,” they have tangible benefits, The second observation is why there is a flurry of groupings. Think of BRICS and now G20. What is happening to the traditional groups like the UN?
Are the new groups complementary or oppositional to traditional institutions? Who is behind the new groups? What is their strategic objective?
The third observation is how much Mahatma Gandhi is venerated in India, with delegates visiting his resting place, Raj Ghats. Did delegates to the climatic summit in Nairobi visit such a site?
We seem to compete with long-gone heroes in Africa, puncturing the patriotism and cohesiveness that go with that. Who is Kenya’s equivalent to Mahatma Gandhi? Do counties have their heroes who can inspire the next generation?
Why are most of our heroes alive including influencers?
Four, countries “protect “each other. The declaration in India tried not to annoy Russia which was represented by its foreign minister. Trade and other strategic issues were at stake. Do we do that with our neighbouring countries, or even in the villages and hamlets where we live?
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Five, why did Russia and China miss the G20? Maybe they wanted just that, to show they matter. China and Russia are the new countervailing forces to the West, read the United States (US). By not joining the G20 meeting it seemed incomplete.
Rise of India
Could it also be an indirect admission that India is an emerging power? Would joining the meeting by both China and Russia be interpreted as endorsing that?
Six was the meeting between India’s PM Narendra Modi and Rishi Sunak. How did Modi feel welcoming his “countryman” home? This meeting shows the rise of India is different from other countries; it has used soft and intellectual power.
Indians are doing well in business and entrepreneurship. This is the tested route to political power. When Indians are not leading political parties, they are leading big corporations. This meeting shows clearly that the Indian century is arriving sooner. Shall we be beneficiaries? How many of us remember India is our neighbour across the Indian Ocean just like Uganda or Tanzania is across Lake Victoria (or Lolwe)?
How much did we leverage on Obamania? How much have we leveraged on Rishi Sunak’s connection to East Africa? Is blood not thicker than water? Could we have a Kenyan President of Indian origin in my lifetime?
India is known for pharmaceuticals and software. But she is going into movies and like Nigeria or the US, influencing our perception. This is where India probably leads China.
Seven is that the US President Joe Biden was in New Delhi.
His next destination was Hanoi in Vietnam. Over 50 years after fighting to stop the spread of communism, the US and Vietnam can now talk, about trade and investment. Are the key World War Two (WWII) combatants, not key trading partners today? Grudges are not forever. That is the reality of geo-economics. That is the path we should follow starting with our neighbours.
When is Somalia joining the East African Community? The US might have fought with Vietnam, but it is a market and investment destination; more so when labour costs are rising in mainland China. Eight is that the G20 meeting was overshadowed by our climatic change meeting in Kenya.
Both are interconnected. Industrialisation is behind climatic change. The G20 website says “The Group of Twenty (G20) is the premier forum for international economic cooperation.
It plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues.” One of the issues is climatic change.
Africa can find a home in G20 and help address key global issues. Like a marriage, every party must play its part. What will be Africa’s role in G20? That must defined now and by us.
Africa should not join economic or political groups just to talk or be counted; the benefits of joining must trickle down to the lowest levels of society. Citizens in Shamakhokho, Kanyonyo, Mpeketoni, Njii ithatu or Maktau should feel G20 and other groupings.