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Waning influence of G77 raises questions about relevance

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Picture: United Nations – The 1960s was marked by the rise of a cohort of new states from Africa, which had just emerged from the yoke of colonialism, and several significant developments in international politics, including the formation of the Group of 77 (G-77) – a group of 77 countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa, the writer says.

By Sizo Nkala

The heady days of the 1960s – marked by the rise of a cohort of new states from Africa which had just emerged from the yoke of colonialism, the break-up of the Sino-Soviet alliance and the intensification of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US – threw up several significant developments in international politics.

Among these was the formation of the Group of 77 (G-77). A group of 77 countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa issued a “Joint Declaration of 77 Developing Countries” after the inaugural session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in June 1964.

The declaration was a clarion call for the creation of a new and equitable international trade system that catered to the interests of the developing countries as well as for unity and solidarity among developing countries.

The new trade system would be a foundational stone for a new global order envisioned by the peoples of the developing countries.

Three years later, in 1967, the G-77 assumed a more organised form and held its first Ministerial Meeting in Algiers, Algeria. The result of the meeting was a comprehensive statement on a programme of action to reform the international economic system including trade, finance and logistics to aid the economic growth of developing countries.

The G-77 had emerged as the institutional embodiment of the shared ideology of the Global South countries that the US-led liberal global order undermined with their sovereignty and exacerbated the inequalities between the rich and poor countries.

In its glory days, the G-77 formulated and led the adoption of the International Development Strategy (IDS) which became the anchor of the UN’s global development agenda in the 1970s.

Under the IDS, the developed countries committed to transfer 0.75 percent of their gross national product to developing countries and to remove restrictions on the exports of developing economies.

However, since the 1980s, the effectiveness of the group has not been readily apparent. Its major shortcoming is that it works through the special agencies of the UN system. As the developed countries worked to weaken the UN having figured out that they were outnumbered by the developing countries, the G-77 also lost its effectiveness.

The group has grown bigger, with 134 members now, and metamorphosed into the G-77 Plus China in the 1990s when China agreed to co-ordinate its international positions with the group.

As Africa just assumed the chairmanship of the G-77 plus China through the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the just concluded Third South Summit in Kampala, Uganda, it is pertinent to ask whether the group remains relevant in international politics.

The summit, held under the theme “Leave No One Behind”, after a two-decade interregnum (the Second South Summit was held in Doha, Qatar), came amid a global order in a state of flux. Various issues were on the agenda of the Third Summit including trade, investment, sustainable development, climate change, poverty eradication and the digital economy, among others.

The fact that there was a 20-year gap between the second and the third summit speaks volumes of the group’s relevance.

Museveni identified common prosperity, trade enhancement and peace and stability as the issues his chairship would focus on.

However, his speech was ambiguous and did not present a clear plan about how the group would go about tackling the issues.

Perhaps the major weakness of the group is that it is a conglomerate of 134 heterogeneous states with diverse histories, cultures and political and economic systems. Co-ordinating such a large number of sovereign states and mobilising them to adopt a common position on issues of common interest is an especially difficult undertaking.

The G-77 was formed when the UN exercised effective powers in the 1960s and the 1970s as the main multilateral platform on which global issues were discussed and resolved.

The group strategically embedded itself within the UN system of special agencies when it was formed. This was a strategically sound move since the UN exercised a great deal of influence. However, attaching itself to the UN meant that the group’s influence would be determined by the strength of the UN. As it turned out, since the 1980s, the UN has been deliberately weakened by the developed countries who have transferred some of its powers to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank where they dominate decision-making.

Moreover, the developed countries have bypassed the UN by forming mini-lateral groups such as the G-7 and the G-20 who seem to have more global agenda-setting powers than the UN. Consequently, the G-77’s powers have also waned. As such, while the group served as an effective platform for developing countries to show solidarity in their quest to reform the global order, its voice has been greatly weakened over the years owing to the sustained emasculation of the UN. Hence, African countries may find the group less relevant today than when they emerged from colonialism 60 years ago.

Dr Sizo Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies