The African Union Is Joining the G20, a Powerful Acknowledgement of a Continent of 1 Billion People

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) addresses the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (AFP)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) addresses the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (AFP)
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The African Union Is Joining the G20, a Powerful Acknowledgement of a Continent of 1 Billion People

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) addresses the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (AFP)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) addresses the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (AFP)

The group of the world's 20 leading economies is welcoming the African Union as a permanent member, a powerful acknowledgement of Africa as its more than 50 countries seek a more important role on the global stage.

US President Joe Biden called last year for the AU’s permanent membership in the G20, saying it’s been “a long time in coming.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the bloc was invited to join during the G20 summit his country is hosting this week.

The African Union has advocated for full membership for seven years, spokesperson Ebba Kalondo said. Until now, South Africa was the bloc's only G20 member.

Here’s a look at the AU and what its membership represents in a world where Africa is central to discussions about climate change, food security, migration and other issues.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR AFRICA? Permanent G20 membership signals the rise of a continent whose young population of 1.3 billion is set to double by 2050 and make up a quarter of the planet's people.

The AU's 55 member states, which include the disputed Western Sahara, have pressed for meaningful roles in the global bodies that long represented a now faded post-World War II order, including the United Nations Security Council. They also want reforms to a global financial system - including the World Bank and other entities - that forces African countries to pay more than others to borrow money, deepening their debt.

Africa is increasingly courting investment and political interest from a new generation of global powers beyond the US and the continent's former European colonizers.

China is Africa’s largest trading partner and one of its largest lenders. Russia is its leading arms provider. Gulf nations have become some of the continent’s biggest investors. Türkiye's largest overseas military base and embassy are in Somalia. Israel and Iran are increasing their outreach in search of partners.

African leaders have impatiently challenged the framing of the continent as a passive victim of war, extremism, hunger and disaster that's pressured to take one side or another among global powers. Some would prefer to be brokers, as shown by African peace efforts following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Granting the African Union membership in the G20 is a step that recognizes the continent as a global power in itself.

WHAT DOES THE AFRICAN UNION BRING TO THE G20? With full G20 membership, the AU can represent a continent that's home to the world's largest free trade area. It's also enormously rich in the resources the world needs to combat climate change, which Africa contributes to the least but is affected by the most.

The African continent has 60% of the world’s renewable energy assets and more than 30% of the minerals key to renewable and low-carbon technologies. Congo alone has almost half of the world’s cobalt, a metal essential for lithium-ion batteries, according to a United Nations report on Africa's economic development released last month.

African leaders are tired of watching outsiders take the continent’s resources for processing and profits elsewhere and want more industrial development closer to home to benefit their economies.

Take Africa’s natural assets into account and the continent is immensely wealthy, Kenyan President William Ruto said at the first Africa Climate Summit this week. The gathering in Nairobi ended with a call for fairer treatment by financial institutions, the delivery of rich countries’ long-promised $100 billion a year in climate financing for developing nations and a global tax on fossil fuels.

Finding a common position among the AU's member states, from the economic powers of Nigeria and Ethiopia to some of the world’s poorest nations, can be a challenge. And the AU itself has long been urged by some Africans to be more forceful in its responses to coups and other crises.

The body's rotating chairmanship, which changes annually, also gets in the way of consistency, but Africa “will need to speak with one voice if it hopes to influence G20 decision-making,” Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, a former prime minister of Niger, and Daouda Sembene, a former executive director of the International Monetary Fund, wrote in Project Syndicate this year.

African leaders have shown their willingness to take such collective action. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they united in loudly criticizing the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries and teamed up to pursue bulk purchases of supplies for the continent.

Now, as a high-profile G20 member, Africa’s demands will be harder to ignore.



For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
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For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)

Most of the athletes representing the Palestinian territories at the Paris Olympics were born elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Germany, Chile and the United States — yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland.

They are eager to compete but say their presence at the Games isn’t only, or even primarily, about sports. With Israel and Hamas locked in a brutal war that has killed tens of thousands in Gaza, these eight athletes — two of whom hail from the West Bank — carry heavier burdens.

Yazan Al Bawwab, a 24-year-old swimmer who was born in Saudi Arabia and lives in Dubai, said he doesn't expect recognition for his performance in the pool. He uses swimming, he said, as a "tool for Palestine.”

“Unfortunately, nobody has ever asked me about my races. Nobody cares,” said al Bawwab, whose parents come from Jerusalem and Lod, a city that today is in central Israel. “I’m going to be plain and honest: France does not recognize Palestine as a country. But I’m over there, raising my flag. That’s my role.”

Omar Ismail, who was born in Dubai to parents who come from the West Bank town of Jenin, has loftier athletic ambitions. Shortly after earning his spot on the team at a taekwondo qualification tournament in China, the 18-year-old said he aims to win a gold medal in Paris.

But even if he does not earn a medal, Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself, The AP reported.

“I represent the identity of the people in Palestine, their steadfastness,” Ismail said. “I’d like to inspire the children of Palestine, show them that each of them can achieve their goals, give them hope.”

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Nine months of war between Israel and Hamas has made that challenge next to impossible.

Much of the country’s sporting infrastructure, clubs and institutions have been demolished, said Nader Jayousi, the technical director at the Palestine Olympic Committee.

“Do you know how many approved pools there are in Palestine? Zero,” said al Bawaab, who noted that the Palestinian economy is too small and fragile to consistently support the development of elite athletes. “There is no sports in Palestine. We are a country right now that does not have enough food or shelter, and we are trying to figure out how to stay alive. We are not a sports country yet.”

The Palestinian diaspora has always played an important role at the Olympics and other international competitions, Jayousi said.

Jayousi said it’s not the first time that most of the athletes representing the POC come from abroad. He said the Palestinian diaspora is always represented at any big international sporting competition and Olympics.

More than 38,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to local health officials. Among those who died were about 300 athletes, referees, coaches and others working in Gaza's sports sector, according to Jayousi.

Perhaps the most prominent Palestinian athlete to die in the war was long-distance runner Majed Abu Maraheel, who in 1996 in Atlanta became the first Palestinian to compete in the Olympics. He died of kidney failure earlier this year after he was unable to be treated in Gaza and could not be evacuated to Egypt, Palestinian officials said.

Only one Palestinian athlete, Ismail, qualified for the Paris Games in his own right. The seven others gained their spots under a wild-card system delivered as part of the universality quota places.. Backed by the International Olympic Committee, it allows athletes who represent poorer nations with less-established sports programs to compete, even though they did not meet the sporting criteria.

“We had very high hopes that we would go to Paris 2024 with qualified athletes,” Jayousi, the team's technical director, said. “We lost lots of these chances because of the complete stoppage of every single activity in the country.”

Palestinian athletes will compete in boxing, judo, swimming, shooting, track and field and taekwondo.

There is a chance Palestinian athletes could compete against Israelis in Paris. The Israel Olympic Committee said it is sending 88 athletes to Paris, and that they would compete against athletes from anywhere.

Jayousi declined to say whether clear guidelines have been issued to Palestinian athletes about whether they would be expected — as a form of protest against the war in Gaza — to drop out of competition rather than face Israelis.

“Let's see what the draws will put our athletes against," he said. “We know what we want to do, but we don't have to say everything that we want to do.”

One Olympic hopeful who did not make the cut was Gaza-born weightlifter Mohammed Hamada, a flag bearer at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. When the war began, Hamada moved to Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah and trained there for 25 days. But because of the shortage of food, Hamada — who competed in the 102 kilograms (225 pounds) weight class — gradually lost about 18 kilograms (40 pounds).

Hamada eventually secured a visa to leave Gaza and moved to Qatar to continue his training. But, Jayousi said, he just couldn't get his body back to Olympic-level condition.

Jayousi said winning medals is not the top priority for the athletes who made it to Paris. (No Palestinian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal).

“We are going here to show our Palestinianism,” he said. “We are focused on fighting until the last second, which we have been doing as a nation for the last 80 years.”

Al Bawaab said he wants to empower the next generation of Palestinian athletes, in part by providing them with greater financial resources. He founded the Palestinian Olympians Association to help athletes prepare for sports and life beyond, including by providing them with mental-health support.

"We don’t have that sports culture yet,” al Bawaab said. “When I’m done swimming, we’ll hopefully get that rolling in the country. But you have to be safe first.”