Last weekend G7 countries met in Biarritz, France to discuss pressing global issues such as climate change and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Historically, the G7 is an exclusive group of the world’s most industrialised economies.
The unifying characteristic of the G7 was support for the post-1945 world order underpinned by liberal internationalism, multilateralism and globalisation. Russia was suspended from the group in 2014 after a brief membership having joined in 1998, due to the crisis in the Crimean Peninsula.
With each summit, G7 is fast losing its bearings, vision and direction. The 2019 summit was held under a climate of misunderstanding and uncertainty. Less than a week before the Summit, Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister expressed his intention to resign from government.
Since the last G7 Summit in Canada, the United Kingdom has changed its prime minister. It is noteworthy that none of the two changes in leadership has come at the end of a regular term of office. The changes spoke of the uncertainty that is gradually taking hold among G7 members. Donald Trump has added to weakening consensus among the G7.
His insistence that Russia should be readmitted to the group has not received a lot of support from fellow G7 countries. Indeed, readmitting Russia will challenge the identity that the G7 seeks to present. If it champions liberal democracy, then it cannot condone Russia’s seizure of Crimea.
Apart from the Russian dynamic, Trump compounded G7 problems by imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on members of the G7. All this having been said, the main questions to be asked are: Does the G7 retain the lustre that it once enjoyed as a group of stellar economic and industrial economies? Second, what lessons, if any does the G7 offer to the rest of the world?
In answering the first question, the G7 no longer represents the elite economies of the world. From its founding in the 1970s, the economic landscape of the world has changed tremendously. Japan has been outstripped by China as the world’s second biggest economy.
Boris Johnson is also expected to assume a similar position as Trump. Angela Merkel has often been the voice of reason and a calming presence in the G7. Her resignation, which should come in 2021 could be a loss of a redeeming feature of the G7 unless there would have been a positive change of leadership in other member countries.
There are palpable fears that Matteo Salvini might become Italy’s prime minister. This will add yet another member to the G7 whose views on immigration are controversial at best.
This possibility brings into sharp focus what Merkel’s retirement might mean. What does the weakening fabric of the G7 mean for Africa? President Emmanuel Macron scored some political points by inviting non-G7 members to France during the Summit. It is laudable that a good number came from Africa, and South Africa was among them.
Unfortunately, Africa has no say on how the G7 should be configured and where it should focus. One thing that is clear is that with insular politics becoming more prominent in the West, Africa can scarcely be sanguine about the future of the G7.
This should offer more incentive for Africa to look for partners that could help the continent to surmount the many challenges facing. The US and the UK, under their current leaderships, do not offer much appeal.
This could be the time for fortifying the ideals of Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and augmenting intra-African trade. Africa could thus form a formidable group of the continent’s countries, forging a path that will guarantee development.
As a caveat, however, this priority should not close off the rest of the world, as the US and UK, whether by design or default, seek to do.
* Monyae is the director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** He writes from Beijing, China attending the 8th Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum.
*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.