When the leaders of the G-20 club of the world’s biggest economies held their annual summit recently in New Delhi, India, the big headline was that the 55-country African Union was invited to become a permanent member of the group. Why did they invite Latin American countries, too?
It’s not a trivial question. Being part of the G-20 will give African countries a stronger voice in global decision-making, in a way that Latin American countries won’t enjoy as a group.
While Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are part of the G-20, none of the many Latin American groups — including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) — will have a seat at the table of the world’s most powerful nations.
The African Union’s permanent G20 membership “means it has been recognized as a key player in the world economic landscape,” Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema said on X, formerly Twitter.
Many diplomats say that Africa is the world’s fastest growing continent with the youngest population, with 1.4 billion people, more than twice Latin America’s population. It also has huge natural resources, including rare earth minerals that will be critical for the production of green energies.
In addition, Africa has a continent-wide free-trade agreement, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA,) while Latin America only has smaller sub-regional free trade deals.
In addition, India’s leader, Narendra Modi, who hosted the Sept. 10 summit, actively campaigned for the G20 to invite the African Union as a permanent member, and the United States supported the idea.
“To join any international forum, a nation or regional grouping needs champions,” John Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador and head of the Washington-based Center for Media Integrity told me. “The G20 host, India, championed the inclusion of the African Union.”
Latin America didn’t have any powerful champions. The most likely reason is that key Latin American leaders stupidly — and needlessly — antagonized the United States during last year’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.
The summit is held only once every three or four years and is the only meeting in which Latin American leaders can sit as a group with the U.S. president to discuss trade and investment opportunities. But instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador boycotted the meeting. He said Mexico would not participate unless Cuba was invited and asked other countries in the region to do the same.
Others, like Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, attended the Los Angeles summit, but spent their time lashing out against the United States for not inviting Cuba. President Biden, to his credit, had decided not to invite the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan dictatorships.
By comparison, nearly 50 African leaders happily attended a similar U.S.-Africa summit hosted by Biden in Washington in December. The Biden administration did not invite six African dictatorships, but that didn’t stop other leaders from coming to Washington and making the most of the meeting.
While many African countries have closer economic ties with China and Russia than with the United States, they used the U.S.-Africa summit to discuss trade and investment opportunities.
“There was no campaign among the Africans to boycott the summit as with Latin American nations at the Summit of the Americas, and no invited African nation made its attendance contingent upon inviting pariah states like Zimbabwe or Eritrea,” Feeley told me.
Also, while Africa has deep political divisions, much like Latin America, U.S. officials have in recent years found it easier to work with the African Union than with Latin American organizations.
“The African Union brings together 55 countries and is able to take decisions and act on pertinent issues of regional concern to a degree that the OAS does not,” Earl A. Wayne, a former U.S. ambassador and American University professor, told me.
Once again, Latin American leaders’ short-sighted populist anti-Americanism has hurt the region. They should learn from African leaders’ pragmatism, so that Latin America can become part of the conversation among world leaders about the key global economic issues.
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 9 pm E.T. on CNN en Español. Blog: www.andresoppenheimer.com