top of page

Expansion of G20 and BRICS - Too Little Too Late for African States?

Michaela Gyasi-Agyei| Africa Fellow

15th BRICS Summit. Sourced via Flickr.

For decades, Africa has been underrepresented in several international organisations and forums. The recent admission of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20, and the inclusion of Ethiopia and Egypt as members of BRICS have been welcomed by some as signs of meaningful progress. However, others have viewed these moves as insufficient or have raised concerns about increasing multipolarity in international affairs.

Era of exclusivity

Many intergovernmental organisations were founded with few or no African members. When the United Nations (UN) was established in 1945, most African countries were still under colonial rule. The only African states among the UN’s 51 founding members were South Africa (then called the Union of South Africa), Liberia, Egypt, and Ethiopia. From the late 1950s, African countries began gaining independence and now all 54 officially recognised African states are members of the United Nations.

While some progress has been made, certain organisations are still dominated by states considered to be “great powers”. The UN Security Council (Security Council) was founded with five permanent members, which have remained unchanged: the United States of America (US), the United Kingdom (UK), France, Russia, and China. The Group of 7 (G7), is an intergovernmental forum founded in 1975, which includes the UK, the US, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the European Union. Its membership has not changed since 1977, though there have been calls for expansion. It is arguable that the structure of these groups should be reassessed to better reflect the plurality and multipolarity of contemporary international affairs.

Alternative avenues

Despite a lack of permanent membership in certain organisations, African states have found other platforms for representation. BRICS, for example, initially included Brazil, Russia, India, and China. However, following its first official meeting in 2009, the bloc was expanded the following year to include South Africa as a member. As of January 2024, the group has doubled in size and now includes Ethiopia and Egypt, with several other African states, including Nigeria, having expressed interest in joining. BRICS membership offers African states trade and investment opportunities, and the group increasingly represents a significant share of the world’s population and GDP. These factors have caused some to view BRICS states as a potential rival to the G7. However, the members of G7 and original members of BRICS are all permanent members of the Group of 20 (G20), a forum of large and emerging economies founded in 1999. Prior to the African Union being granted permanent membership in September 2023, South Africa was the only permanent African member of the G20.  The addition of the African Union will provide greater representation for African states, allowing the G20 to create more effective policies.

Security Council reform 

It is arguable that the Security Council should include a permanent African member, particularly because the UN conducts peacekeeping missions in Africa and makes decisions which primarily affect the continent. Though Algeria, Mozambique and Sierra Leone are currently serving as temporary members, these states only have two-year terms and do not have veto power, unlike permanent members. Since the Ezulwini Consensus was published in 2005, African states have been calling for increased and permanent representation in the Security Council. This view has been echoed by others, including the current permanent members of the Security Council and the Secretary-General of the UN who stated that the Security Council reflects “the political and economic realities of 1945”.

Though there is support for reform of the Security Council, the process of implementation is not straightforward. One barrier is a lack of consensus regarding the existing veto power, which some believe should be removed either for new permanent members or for all permanent members. There are also difficulties in deciding which African state/s should represent the continent. South Africa has been named as one option, and its experience in G20 and BRICS may prove to be clear credentials for eligibility. As the largest economy and most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria is also a potential candidate. However, decisions need to be made in order for the process of reform to move forward.

A multipolar future? 

The expansion of BRICS is one sign that the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, with power no longer predominantly concentrated within the Global North. Some have welcomed this change, viewing the previous state of global affairs as outdated and arguing that traditional political and economic heavyweights should no longer have a dominant position. A potential benefit of multipolarity is a greater voice for African states and other members of the Global South, allowing these states to have a direct say in issues which affect their citizens.

However, there are also concerns that organisations like BRICS are anti-Western, and do not truly seek to fairly distribute power or foster meaningful collaboration. Some fear that Russia and China are taking advantage of increased distrust between the Global South and the West. The trust deficit in African states exists due to the legacy of colonialism and recent issues such as “vaccine apartheid” and unfavourable development policies. These issues should be addressed to increase trust and reduce the risks of polarisation.

Africa has the youngest population in the world and is expected to become the most populous continent by 2050. This region is at the forefront of several global issues and many potential opportunities. The citizens of African states deserve to be meaningfully represented on the international stage. The expansion of G20 and BRICS may contribute to this goal, but it is likely that more needs to be done.

Michaela Gyasi-Agyei is the Africa Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs. She has a Bachelor of Economics/Laws (Honours) from the University of Queensland.


bottom of page