G20 to become G21 as world leaders agree to grant African Union permanent membership

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shares a light moment with African Union Chairman and President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani  (via REUTERS)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shares a light moment with African Union Chairman and President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani (via REUTERS)

The African Union has been granted permanent membership to the G20, host nation India has announced, in an historic expansion of the economic bloc.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi invited the president of the 55-member African Union (AU) to take a seat at the table among permanent members at the opening of the two-day summit on Saturday morning, saying there was consensus among existing members to approve the move.

The current AU president Azali Assoumani, who is also president of the Comoros, was escorted by Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar to a seat and Mr Modi rose to hug him amid a round of applause from delegates.

The inclusion of the AU in the grouping of the world’s richest countries will mean the first expansion of the bloc since it was formed in response to an Asian financial crisis in 1999, comprising the world’s 19 largest economies as well as the European Union.

It is set to give AU the same status as the EU, the only regional bloc with full membership currently.

The decision came as a victory for Africa, which has long complained of having only a single representative – South Africa – on the bloc, saying this effectively denied a whole continent a role in global decision-making.

Speaking to The Independent at the summit venue in Delhi, South African government spokesperson Vincent Magwenya hailed it as “a very significant development... one that we had been advocating for for quite some time”.

“The G20 is the premier platform for international economic cooperation, and it was never sustainable that you were excluding a continent of more than 1.4 billion people. Africa is an integral part of the global economy.”

The AU’s invitation to join as a permanent member had been expected, with India trailing it as one of its key goals for a summit where it wanted to establish itself as the leading voice of the Global South.

Mr Magwenya said the AU had stepped up its push for membership at last year’s summt in Indonesia but that “we owe [this development] to India’s leadership”. “It has finally happened,” he said. “We are grateful to PM Modi.”

"Honoured to welcome the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 Family. This will strengthen the G20 and also strengthen the voice of the Global South," said a message on Mr Modi’s official account on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The expansion means the G20 will need a new name, with observers working on the basis that it will be called the G21 going forwards, though this has not been confirmed.

Mr Modi first backed calls for the inclusion of the African Union back in June.

In an article published across Indian and international newspapers on Thursday, Mr Modi wrote: "Our presidency has not only seen the largest-ever participation from African countries but has also pushed for the inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20".

Premeshin Naidoo, head of the Middle East and Asia Corridor department at financial services company Absa Group, told The Independent the expansion of the bloc could open up untapped opportunities for collaboration and investment in Africa.

“Spurred by an attractive trade opportunity with Africa’s rich resources in crude oil, edible fruits and nuts, India is now one of the top five investors in Africa, with around $74bn in investments. India and Africa have historic links, but in recent years, India has undertaken huge investment initiatives to strengthen this strategic partnership,” he said.

He said there are huge opportunities now in sectors including, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy and agriculture.

The agreement between the G20 members marks the first victory for hosts India as it struggles to forge sufficient consensus among members to end the summit with a joint communique from leaders.

India is hosting the summit amid bitter geopolitical divisions over Russia’s war in Ukraine with Western nations pushing for strong condemnation of Russia while others are demanding a focus on broader economic issues.