Ahead of the G20 summit in India on September 9-10, much has been written about Western plans to reset relations with African countries to counter the growing influence of Russia and China on the continent.
For example, the press indicated that the European Union would support the African Union’s membership in the G20, and the United States would seek support from countries in the Global South to achieve its goals in Ukraine. To be honest, they talked about the African Union’s membership in the G20 even earlier – on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg.
Russian President Vladimir Putin then said he supported such a move. More importantly, however, Africa has suffered for decades from the exploitation of its natural resources by Western countries, especially the United States, Britain and France, which treated the continent’s states as vassals and paid lip service to development assistance. Instead of support, the leaders of the United States and the European Union have been lecturing Africans for decades about human rights and the LGBT community, climate change and other liberal values.
And when the West did offer help, it did so by setting conditions for African countries on foreign policy and democracy, which on the continent was often perceived as interference in internal affairs. The imperialistic approaches of the West have deprived Africa of any tangible development. The result is widespread poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructure and low life expectancy. African countries are the poorest in the world, despite the abundance of natural resources.
Russia and China, by contrast, built infrastructure in Africa, including airports, roads and bridges, stadiums, provided technology and agricultural machinery, and provided security assistance, without imposing conditions or interfering in internal affairs.
African countries in Russia and China are impressed by the fact that their foreign policy is not about imperialism and neo-colonialism. These two powers are building an equal partnership with Africa on trust, mutual benefit and sustainable development, and respect for each other’s political systems and culture.
Russia and China’s relations with Africa have deepened to the point where it will be virtually impossible for the West to regain lost ground. The West is considered untrustworthy. For many Africans, this is already irreversible. Wounds from exploitation and indifference will take a long time to heal, if at all. This is especially evident in West Africa, the Sahel region, where most countries have recently been practicing a “look east” policy.
Military leaders in Burkina Faso , Gabon , Mali , Niger carried out popular coups, replacing Western proxies and seeking to strengthen relations with Russia and China. In Africa they want projects for sustainable development and assistance without additional conditions, which the United States and the European Union are not ready to offer. They are closer to the “big brother” approach and using aid as a foreign policy tool.
Interestingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, skipped the G20 Summit in India. Putin sent his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, while Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang represented Xi.
Notably, Xi attended the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg in August. Putin expressed interest in attending the same summit but later withdrew out of concerns that the West might use his presence in the face of the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant to sabotage and create a crisis around the watershed gathering due to discuss BRICS expansion.
This suggests that Putin and Xi regard BRICS as far more crucial for them than the G20, which brings together the biggest economies in the West and the Global South. They would rather focus on BRICS than waste their time on the G20, which currently offers very little strategic value to their countries.
Notably, their snubbing of the G20 is also a sign that Russia and China are decoupling from the West, which has either sanctioned or imposed trade barriers on them. Xi and Putin are clearly looking beyond the West already. After Xi visited Moscow earlier this year, Putin returned the favour by visiting Beijing in October.
The G20 becomes irrelevant to the United Nations as the new world order unfolds. No wonder the 2023 summit ended up being nothing more than a catch-up session and a photo opportunity for the G20 leaders who attended.
Mahasha Rampedi is editor-in-chief of African Times in Johannesburg, South Africa.