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Di Maio: “A privileged bridge to connect Italy to Africa”

Italy hosts the authorities of African countries in Rome a few weeks before the Cop26 Conference scheduled in Glasgow. What work, what partnership can we imagine together for a truly sustainable common future?

We strongly wanted to listen to the voice of Africa on the eve of the Glasgow Conference on COP26 and the Rome G20 Summit on October 31, to which the President of the African Union Commission is invited, upon an Italian initiative. In fact, the sustainable development of the African continent plays a leading role within the work of the G20 Italian Presidency. On the occasion of the Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting that I chaired in Matera on June 29, we discussed the many challenges that Africa is facing today, including the fight against climate change, energy transition, economic growth, education and work, debt and food security. On the latter issue, together with the G20 Foreign Affairs and Development Ministers, we adopted the Matera Declaration on Food Security, a platform for commitments to make food systems more sustainable and resilient.

We are aware that the responsibilities regarding climate change are common but differentiated, depending on the impact of each country on the environment. In the case of Africa, those responsibilities are limited to 3% of climate warming. Africa, however, is also the Continent, which, due to its demographic growth and human and economic potential, has even more than others the need for growth based on clean energy. Today, as perhaps never before in history, we are faced with the opportunity of a growth model, which, instead of replicating the failures caused by an unsustainable exploitation of the planet’s resources, can lead the economic rationality itself to consider it profitable to resort to renewable energies, green hydrogen, greater energy efficiency, and the many other ways that open up thanks to research, technological progress and green finance. Italy will play a leading role, also through the contribution of some of the large Italian companies operating in Africa, for which, thanks to their know-how and cutting-edge technologies in the field of clean energy, energy transition has become a priority.

Italy has been involved in the Sahel for some time, particularly in countries such as Mali and Niger where there is a strong penetration of Islamic terrorism. How to contribute to the stability of the region?

The stability of the Sahel and the response to the needs of the countries that are part of it is an absolute priority for Europe and for Italy, as I was able to reaffirm also during my recent missions in Mali and Niger. At the Ministerial Meeting of the Global Anti-Daesh Coalition, which we hosted and co-chaired in Rome last June, we supported the need to strengthen the focus on Africa, in the awareness of the risks of radicalization and terrorism to which some areas of the continent are exposed. We are therefore promoting the establishment of a “Platform for Africa”, aimed at strengthening the capacity for analysis and coordination within the Coalition in relation to the unfortunately growing terrorist threat on the African continent. I remind you that Italy is part of the training and support bilateral mission in the Republic of Niger (MISIN) and of the mission that deals with the control of the territory and the borders between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger (TAKUBA). At the same time, we support the need to combine security aspects with initiatives aimed at eradicating the root causes that lead to radicalization and violent extremism, especially of the most vulnerable people. For example, we are among the donor countries of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), which carries out prevention activities in the communities most at risk. Our development cooperation activity has always been at the forefront in the African continent, with initiatives aimed at improving the daily life of local populations and promoting an equitable and sustainable economic and social development.

Very often, we speak of emigration from Africa, and very little of projects for reintegration in the countries of origin. Are these programs really working?

For years, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has supported programs for the reintegration of migrants who are in transit countries, with the aim of enabling them to return to their countries of origin in conditions of safety and respect for human dignity. Thanks to the Migration Fund of Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, we contributed to the assisted voluntary repatriation operations carried out by IOM for over 85,000 migrants. Furthermore, we also activated social and economic reintegration mechanisms, facilitating the launch of micro-activities to the benefit of the interested parties and the local communities to which they return. Overall, since its creation in 2017, the Migration Fund has financed over 90 projects in 14 African countries.

Most Africans are disconnected from what can be called the economic growth of their countries: they do not see it and do not benefit from it. Is it a problem that has to do with the very structure of the African economy or is it above all related to bad governance?

Despite the setback caused by Covid-19  on the process of economic, social and cultural growth, there were some important results. In 2020, albeit in full pandemic, the EU was the main trading partner of the African continent and absorbed 28% of Africa’s import and export share. Looking at the trade between Italy and Sub-Saharan Africa, the data for the first six months of 2021 are rather encouraging with an increase of around 26%, thanks above all to the driving role of our imports. I also point out that in recent years, our country has consistently ranked at the top in terms of volume of foreign direct investment in Africa, exceeding 27 billion euros in 2020. We have a great opportunity to seize the great potential of the continent together with our African partners. Therefore, we are ready to expand bilateral agreements of economic partnership in order to become a privileged bridge between Europe and Africa, for a mutually beneficial and above all inclusive growth.