The African Union became a permanent member of the G20 on Saturday at a summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies in New Delhi, marking the first expansion of the bloc since it was created in 1999 to cope with a series of financial crises.

The African Union will have the same status as the 27-member European Union (EU), the only regional bloc with full membership of the G20. The move was in line with the Indian G20 presidency’s efforts to put the concerns and interests of the Global South at the centre of its agenda for the summit.

In a brief televised inaugural session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the move to make the 55-member African bloc the new member of the G20. “In keeping with the sentiment of sabka saath (with everyone), India proposed that the African Union should be given permanent membership of the G20. I believe we all are in agreement on this proposal,” Modi said, speaking in Hindi.

After saying “with your agreement”, Modi banged a gavel thrice to mark the entry of the African Union into the grouping. “Before we start our work, I invite the African Union president to take his position as a permanent member,” he said.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar escorted the current chairperson of the African Union, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, to a seat at the table for permanent members of the G20. Modi greeted Assoumani with a hug before the G20 leaders began their deliberations behind closed doors.

Addressing the opening session of the summit, Modi called for the G20 to work together to find solutions to pressing challenges such as a turbulent global economy, the North-South divide, management of food, fuel and fertilisers and ensuring health, energy, and water security. “India’s G-20 presidency has become a symbol of inclusion, both within the country and beyond, representing the spirit of ‘Sabka Saath’ (with everyone),” he said.

Africa was also in spotlight as the delegates gathered in New Delhi because of an earthquake in Morocco. Modi offered condolences and support for the victims. “The entire world community is with Morocco in this difficult time and we are ready to provide them all possible assistance,” he said.

The inclusion of the African Union will also add to the clout of the G20, which already accounts for about 85% of global GDP, more than 75% of global trade and about two-thirds of the world population.

In June, Modi wrote to his counterparts among G20 members that the African Union should be given full membership of the grouping. The proposal was also backed by key members of the European Union (EU), China and Russia, albeit for different reasons.

Besides the EU, members of the G7 such as Japan backed the move to give African countries, which are part of the Global South, a greater say in the global governance architecture. China was reluctant to be seen as going against the move in view of its large investments in Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative, while Russia has been keen to woo more African states to its side to counter its isolation by the West over the Ukraine conflict.

“India is elated to welcome @_AfricanUnion as a permanent member of the G20. Together, let us foster global unity and progress. Let us also do whatever we can for the development of the Global South,” Modi posted on X.

In response to a message in French posted on X by Assoumani, Modi said India believes in a collaborative future and “this step further solidifies our collective commitment to global progress”. Modi also responded to a congratulatory message from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa by saying: “With the @_AfricanUnion strengthening the G20 family, we will cement partnerships that prioritise all-round development, leading to a better planet.”

Ramaphosa said the global reconstruction in the wake of Covid-19 presents an opportunity to accelerate the transition to low-carbon, climate resilient, sustainable societies at a time when developing economies are bearing the brunt of climate change.

Diplomats of G20 member states have said the African Union’s inclusion would not lead to a change in the name of the grouping.