Wed, 17 Aug 2022

How Africans can assess the value of the latest G7 summit

The Conversation
07 Jul 2022, 00:39 GMT+10

Leaders of the world's seven advanced economies have once again pledged economic support for Africa and other developing countries. But the realisation of these commitments depends on political developments in the Group of Seven (G7) countries, specifically the United States, the outcome of Russia's war with Ukraine, and whether Russian president Vladimir Putin retains his grip on power.

How each of these political developments will pan out is difficult to tell. But each has an important bearing on the decisions African leaders must make in terms of which power blocs, if any, they align with.

The G7 is an informal group of advanced democracies that has been meeting annually since 1975. The impetus then was a global recession caused by an energy crisis. There was also the desire among the US, UK, Germany and France to have Japan as full partner in meeting that crisis. Italy and Canada were quickly added. The president of the European Commission also attends.

Topping this year's agenda were the many pressing economic issues arising from war in Ukraine, notably the scope and effects of western sanctions against Russia.

US politics was also a backdrop to this year's summit, amid fears that Donald Trump might return to office in 2024. Trump's administration was seen as an admirer of Putin and questioned the need for a G7. President Joe Biden is, by contrast, an enthusiastic supporter. But Biden faces domestic political insecurities, raising the prospect of Trump's return or the election in 2024 of someone with his nationalist outlook.

This was the context for this year's G7 summit, to which South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the current chair of the African Union, Senegal's Macky Sall, were invited to make presentations. So were the leaders of India, Indonesia and Argentina. Each one is a democracy with extensive ties to members of the G7. But they are also what Brookings scholar Bruce Jones describes as "fence sitters" regarding the isolation of Russia.

African governments especially face many challenges, amid escalating tensions between western democracies, Russia and China. Africa's interests would be best served if its leaders were to avoid being drawn into the hostile divide between Russia and China and the west. But it may not be possible to avoid taking sides while trying to maximise advantageous partnerships.

Political uncertainties among the major powers abound, including the course of the Ukrainian war, US domestic politics, and even Putin's hold on power. The Russian leader has been in office since 2000 and has amended Russia's constitution to extend his term to 2036. Biden faces restive voters in 2024, with current polling data showing his support below 40%.

Germany, the summit host, succeeded in having western economic issues of the Ukraine war discussed on the first day. The second day addressed challenges facing African and other developing nations. Climate change, global health, gender equity and digital infrastructure were included.

Currently, the Ukraine war affects all these issues. Its terrible effects on Africa should not be ignored.

Assessing the value of the G7 summit

The G7 summit offered the most recent insights for Africa into how the western advanced nations are considering their stakes in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the impact that could have on developing nations. Sorting substance from rhetoric will take time. African scepticism as to whether the west will deliver has merit.

As African governments assess the significance of the G7's promises of support in areas of vital concern to Africans, four key political possibilities could advance or derail them.

  • If Putin remains in power and Biden wins a second four-year term, then the prospects for a second Cold War in Africa will escalate. This would likely differ from the first one in being less of a military confrontation, and without the competing ideologies of communism and capitalism. Rather, it would be about variations of democracy and authoritarianism, presenting difficult choices for African governments and citizens.

  • If Putin remains but Biden loses to the still dominant Trump faction Republicans in the 2022 congressional and 2024 presidential elections, then America's pledge to the G7 package could be abandoned in 2025. Trump cancelled the US pledge to support the special fund to mitigate the effects of climate change in 2017.

Other cuts in multilateral programmes, including to the World Health Organisation and African peacekeeping, that Biden restored, would likely be reinstated. And if Trump allies gain greater power in Congress, their role in protecting programmes in health, agriculture and development that Trump failed to slash in his first Trump presidency would be vulnerable.

  • If Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity survive, and Putin is deposed or politically weakened, and Biden wins, then risks of a new Cold War in Africa should decline, and possibilities for collective African agency improve.

  • If Biden and Putin both lose power at home, then risks of a new Cold War in Africa also diminish. The focus will turn more towards China and whether the G7 can function as an equally important partner in Africa's collective efforts to improve the daunting prospects of its myriad challenges without America's leadership.

Timely reminder

On 27 June 2022 the G7 leaders and guests issued a issued a "resilient democracies" statement.

In it the leaders describe democracies globally as reliable partners, willing and able to defend open, pluralistic debate. They also reaffirm their commitments to inclusion, equality and the promotion of equal representation.

It is an important indicator of the democratic commitments embedded in the founding documents of the African Union, as well as the UN Charter and institutions. Russia's disregard for these rules might even open fresh opportunities for reforming the UN Security Council and other multilateral forums to Africa's advantage.

The statement, endorsed by the chair of the African Union, is a timely reminder that Africans - for their own reasons - aspire to entrench basic freedoms and rights, different from authoritarian alternatives. That fact alone makes Africa's participation in this year's G7 a timely signal of its aspiration to achieve national and regional integration by democratic means.

Author: John J Stremlau - Honorary Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand The Conversation

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