Those left behind by globalisation in developed countries might continue to stage violent protests against what they call a “gang of elites”, but if one interrogates the agenda for discussions under the recent presidencies of China, Germany and Argentina, it almost reads like an AU to-do list.
Argentina, which holds the G20 presidency, brings a tangible understanding of the challenges faced by developing countries. It is going further than any past presidency in trying to break the G20 out of the perceived mould of a collection of states interested only in maintaining its wealth at the expense of the developing south.
Half the G20 are highly industrialised, advanced countries, while the other half are emerging market economies. South Africa is the only African country in the group, and has been pushing a developmental agenda for some time.
It seems there is a growing realisation globally that in order to have global economic stability there needs to be social and political stability.
Fourteen billion people live on less than $8 (R90) a day. They need to be made part of the value chain so they can contribute to their communities and economies through work.
If the refugee and migrant crisis has brought about any home truths, it is that the impoverishment of African countries will have a direct impact on developed countries of the north. For as long as people live in dire poverty, suffer under protracted conflicts and are repressed by their governments, their problems will ultimately also become the problems of the north.
For a few years, the G20 has begun to sharpen its focus on social issues such as health, education, food security, job opportunities, digitisation, renewable energy and climate change.
Argentina has taken these issues further by trying to co-ordinate approaches across sectors, which is imperative in order to realise developmental goals. For example, on the future of work, Argentina has linked education and digitisation, and created the first education working group at the ministerial level.
Significantly, Argentina’s G20 Sherpa ambassador Pedro Delgado, has taken the unprecedented step of going to the AU this week to engage continental leaders and listen to their priorities.
This is the first time the G20 has had a Sherpa hold a meaningful dialogue with African officials at the AU headquarters in order to solicit their views on the G20 agenda, and hear what they would like to see the G20 focus on.
The AU officials; preoccupation this week was with the sustainability of external foreign debt, and the need for the Compact with Africa to start rolling out projects with deliverables.
Ambassador Delgado has also engaged officials in some G7 capitals, but what is important is that he has argued that the G7 agenda must be aligned with that of the G20 - not the other way around. It almost seems as if the issues of trade and investment within the G20 have been eclipsed by the urgent issues of socio-economic development.
Looking at what Argentina would like to see accomplished by the end of this year, there are some forward-looking initiatives to forge consensus within the G20 on key health and economic issues. One is an expected minister’s declaration on universal health coverage and microbial resistance.
While these issues have been discussed in previous summits, it will seek to embed the right to health care and get state guarantees for the provision of quality health services. On antimicrobial resistance, there has been concern for some time regarding treatment with antibiotics and the emergence of multidrug-resistant germs. Argentina believes that global co-ordination of actions is necessary.
A declaration is also expected to prioritise the goal of combating malnutrition and obesity. Forty-one million children were considered overweight or obese in 2016, which is now a growing public health concern. This requires practical guidelines to remove trans-fatty acids from processed foods, to ensure front-of-package food labelling and to highlight the importance of exercise.
The issues are becoming as important as addressing the scourge of malnutrition in many countries. As part of Argentina’s focus on early childhood investment, it will be the first time the issue of access to healthy nutrition is put on the G20’s agenda.
This is the time for Africa to work with Argentina and other like-minded countries and steer them in a direction to support the African agenda.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor