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PM Modi welcomes African Union as permanent member of G20: What is it? How many countries does it comprise?

PM Modi offered Comoros President and AU chairperson Azali Assoumani to take his seat as a permanent member during the G20 Summit on Saturday.

Written By: Aveek Banerjee New Delhi Updated on: September 09, 2023 13:20 IST
PM Modi receiving African Union (AU) chairman Azali
Image Source : PTI PM Modi receiving African Union (AU) chairman Azali Assoumani as permanent representative of G20

G20 Summit 2023: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday formally welcomed the African Union (AU) as a permanent member of the G20 forum - holding up his long-standing promise to include the African continental body in the global group.

During his opening remarks in the high-profile G20 Summit in New Delhi, PM Modi welcomed Comoros President and AU chairman Azali Assoumani to take his seat as a permanent member of the G20 forum. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar also received the AU chairman at the event. Assoumani has been the chairperson of AU since February 2023.

Before taking his seat, Assoumani and PM Modi briefly embraced to signify the importance of the occasion. The step deepens India's stance on amplifying the voices of the Global South and strengthens its position vis-a-vis inclusion as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Ahead of the G20 Summit, PM Modi said that Africa was a "top priority" for India and wrote to world leaders in June to welcome the AU in the G20 forum. The proposal was formally included in the draft communique for the summit during the third G20 Sherpas meeting in Hampi, Karnataka, in July. PM Modi's proposal was accepted by all members of the G20 present in New Delhi, paving the way for AU's inclusion in the group.

What is the African Union?

The African Union (AU) is a African continental body comprising of 55 countries - including Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madasgascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Bostwana and others.

The motive of the pan-African organisation is to promote the unity and solidarity of African nations to defend sovereignity of the states, eradicate colonialism and promote cooperation on international and regional policies among the member-states. It was officially launched in 2002 in Durban, South Africa, as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

The AU headquarters are located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and comprise USD 3 trillion of GDP and a population of 1.4 billion. It is guided by a vision of "An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena".

How was the African Union formed?

The origins of the African Union go back several decades, when the OAU was established on May 25, 1953 in the Ethiopian capital. At least 32 African leaders signed the Charter of the OAU to create Africa's first post-independence constitutional organisation. The OAU was formed to promote solidarity and sovereignity of African countries as well as ridding the nations from all forms of colonialism and apartheid.

The guiding philosophy behind the OAU was to eradicate colonialism and foster greater cooperation among member-states for the betterment of the African population, while also promoting international cooperation with respect to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In terms of objectives, both institutions are largely similar.

However, in the 1990s, leaders of the organisation felt that there was a need to amend the structures of the OAU in reflection of the challenges of the world in a post-Cold War order. The OAU heads of State and Government issued the Sirte Declaration calling for the establishment of an African Union to accelerate the process of integration in the continent and embolden Africa's role in the global economy.

The Lome Summit in 2000 adopted the AU Constitutive Act and the Lusaka Summit in 2001 prepared a roadmap for implementation of the AU. The next summit in Durban in July 2002 saw the first Assembly session of the African Union - which established new structures and policies, even though most of the principles remained the same.

The structure of African Union

The top hierarchial positions in the African Union is taken by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the Executive Council, the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC), Specialised Technical Committees (STCs), the Peace and Security Council and The African Union Commission. 

The participation of African citizens and civil societies is supervised by the Pan-African Parliament and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). The structures handling judicial, legal and human rights matters are the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), AU Commission on International Law (AUCIL), AU Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

The Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the African Peer Review Mechanism are also key bodies of the AU. The continental body has also adopted Agenda 2063 - a 50-year plan outlining flagship proects and reforms - for the realisation of pan-African vision of integrative transformation, prosperity and peace in Africa.

Challenges faced by the African Union

In recent times, the African countries have faced a number of problems pertaining to insecurity, internal conflicts, overreliance on foreign aid, poor infrastructural development, poverty, corruption and instability in political leadership. The recent two military coups in Niger and Gabon - both of whom have been suspended from the AU - show the limitations and shortcomings of the institution's vision of a prosperous and peaceful Africa.

The AU has a stark challenge of building global consensus on reforms and financing of African development initiatives. Amid Africa's struggles to provide benefits for its population, its inclusion in the G20 forum is a welcome sign to realise its vision in the future and assert its position in the global arena. Most importantly, the commitment of African leaders in key in African development goals - which is far from effective at its current stage.

In terms of conflicts, Africa is grappling with civilian unrest in Sudan and Ethiopia, while the West African region, or Sahel, has turned chaotic in wake of threats by the Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, along with refugee flows and rising food insecurity. However, it has made some progress in the areas of free trade and transport market. 

India's attachment to the African continent have been challenged by the fact that China is the continent's largest trading partner. Moreover, Russia is Africa's biggest arms provider and Gulf countries also have significant investments there.

Africa is enormously rich in the resources the world requires to combat climate change, despite it being affected the most. Over the years, frustration has developed within African nations as the population is unable to access natural resources there while foreign countries have used them for profit and industrial development. AU's inclusion in G20 is thus a significant acknowledgement of the continent.

ALSO READ | PM Narendra Modi opens G20 Summit 2023 by welcoming African Union | Top Quotes

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