Traditionally, G20 leaders focus on issues relating to global economic growth, international trade and financial market regulations. The 2017 Hamburg summit was no different. However, Germany attempted to use its presidency to rally global leaders behind a number of causes, which the summit had not previously had on its agenda.
Support for science
Digital technology, for instance, was on the agenda and the threats of global pandemics. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which had a ripple effect on the global economy, led to the G20 leaders’ decision to devote greater attention to combating dangerous diseases.
The issue of antimicrobial resistance, which is the resistance of bacteria, viruses or parasites to antibiotics and other drugs, first appeared on the agenda in last year’s summit in Hangzou, China. The increased resistance to the conventional drugs has complicated the treatment of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. According to Merkel, the leaders agreed to “increase the fight against pandemic diseases that could crash the global economy” and “build a common front in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.” A G20 working group is will in future take up the issue of the appropriate use of antibiotics.
More financial equality?
Women’s economic empowerment also featured in the discussions. The German chancellor reported that an agreement had been reached on how to reduce “the pay gap between men and women.” Germany had been pushing for a 25 percent reduction by 2025 of the existing barriers that prevent women’s development, especially in developing nations.
There was also a general consensus among the G20 leaders in combating international terrorism. They agreed to dry up the sources of financing for terrorist organizations. They intend to do this through “closer cooperation and improved exchange of information,” according to Merkel.
“We agreed to give a chance to globalization and fight protectionism and unfair business practices,” Merkel said. According to Merkel, a consensus was also reached in “securing financial stability” for the global economy and “increasing vigilance on international market structures, profit shifting, and bad taxation practices.” The issue of international trade however was a hotly contested subject against the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.
The G20 leaders also recognized Trump’s utterance of pulling out of the Paris climate deal. The remaining 19 members agreed that the Paris deal is irreversible. It will now be supported by a Hamburg action plan for climate and energy. While Merkel expressed her wish “to find compromises” to these pressing global issues, many were left unresolved
In June Merkel hosted African leaders to discuss the “Compact with Africa” initiative in Berlin
What’s in it for Africa?
Germany wanted to use its G20 presidency to put what some call the “Merkel plan for Africa” at the core of the discussion. The Africa focus, however, appears to have been overshadowed by the G20’s internal relations, notably the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate pact.
Berlin, however, seemed determined to roll out its Africa agenda despite the odds and despite Germany’s expected leadership on various other political matters, such as the future of the European Union, the intake of refugees and climate change. Moreover, Merkel is facing elections at home at a time when Germany seems more divided than it has been in a long time. How high Africa will feature on her agenda remains to be seen.
Observations from Africa
“We are very happy that Merkel chose to focus on Africa,” said Ibrahima Kone, a member of the African Union delegation at the summit, which urged the G20 members to help “educate its citizens.” According to Kone, AU President Alpha Conde was thrilled by Germany’s newly found interest in the continent. But apart from showing appreciation, African leaders have not done much so far to support her plans. Merkel has earned their goodwill, but not their resources.
Merkel seems to be facing a long path in her her bid to change Europe’s role in Africa. “We agreed to continue to be in Africa, but want to shift away from development aid to partnership, which includes forming agreements with individual countries,” said Merkel. The chancellor’s “Compact with Africa” initiative aims to “make investment projects viable, bankable and fundable.” She also announced that the United States agreed to pay a substantial sum for relief efforts in famine-affected parts of East Africa.
AU Chair Alpha Conde and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma were some of the only African leaders at the G20 summit
My personal take: dreams of a prosperous Africa
From a personal standpoint, this year’s G20 summit has left many unresolved issues, especially surrounding the sudden interest in Africa. Because, who dreams of a prosperous Africa? It’s certainly not the political elite, and if you think it is Germany, then think again. The image of ‘poor Africa’,the child with bloated stomach and running nose, sells and aid organizations thrive on it.
Whether Merkel’s will is driven by a notion of trying to correct Germany’s dark past in Africa, is an attempt to curb the flow of African migrants or to rid Germany’s train stations of the images of malnourished African children, her plan seems to be the best Africa has seen from Europe in a while.
It combines classical development aid with private sector investments, a two-way business agenda and programs for the youth. Merkel had hoped to get her African development agenda endorsed at the G20 summit. And she did. The problem is, it’s only her dream.