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Governo Italiano

Address by the Hon. Minister at the International Conference “Cities of Africa: urbanization as a factor of growth of the African continent”



Address by the Hon. Minister at the International Conference “Cities of Africa: urbanization as a factor of growth of the African continent”

Rome, 15 November 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Allow me to address everyone a hearty welcome to the Farnesina, and especially to:

- my colleagues the Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Undersecretaries and Mayors of Congo, Angola, Tunisia, Guinea Conakry, Somalia, Ghana and Mozambique;

- to the Ambassadors present here with us today;

- to the Executive Secretary of UNECA, Vera Songwe;

- to Deputy Minister Giro;

- to the many friends from and of Africa for attending an event dedicated to the great sustainable growth and development potential of the cities of the Continent.

Ever since the times of ancient Greece, and through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, cities have always been a source of vitality for our European culture. From the Greek Agora to the Roman Forum, all the way through to our times, cities have always been instrumental to guaranteeing the active participation of citizens in the political life of the Country; to converting power into structures, the energy of communities into culture, art and creativity; and to fostering economic and social development.

This vision, which is rooted in history, has spurred us to give great importance to this event dedicated to African cities. We are indeed convinced that urbanisation is not only a social phenomenon to observe but also a factor of growth and prosperity. 

It is no coincidence that numerous mayors from all over the world participated in the negotiations to define the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Today it would be impossible to achieve the 17 Global Goals without the direct contribution of cities. Because more than 60% of the 196 targets of the Agenda require the engagement of cities and regions. African cities – which are greatly expanding – are an essential partner for us in pursuing these goals. 

I said it at Africa Day and I repeat it today: the pivot of Italy’s foreign policy must also be turned towards the Mediterranean and towards Africa. Because the development of the Mediterranean and of Africa means peace, security and prosperity for all our people.  

It is a geographical fact: Rome is exactly midway between Brussels and Tunis, between the capital of Europe and the capital of Africa. But it is also inherent to the spirit of Italian diplomacy: to build a “bridge” between Europe and Africa in the attempt to overcome the great contrasts of our times: between those who want to put up walls and those who – quite rightly – see in Euro-African dialogue the essential element with which to solve major common challenges: from terrorism to the migration crisis.  

The sustainable development of our cities and their capacity to adequately respond to the needs of our citizens is key in meeting these challenges effectively and concretely. Just think of the condition of our youth, European and African, who seek to realize their life-long projects in cities and all they find is an unbearable rate of unemployment. This condition generates “democratic fatigue” and nurtures sentiments whereby politics does not pursue their interests. Or – worse still – they fall prey to fanaticism and extremism because too often radicalisation takes root where there is no employment and there is social distress and poverty, in Africa and in Europe alike. 

As in the past, cities must be the place where to come to grips with this reality. This requires considerable political effort. Because Africa in particular is the epicentre of the global growth in population and urbanisation. Its population, currently at 1.2 billion, will double to 2.5 billion by 2050, which means a quarter of the population on the Planet. Africa will have more urban dwellers that Europe, almost 570 million people. And, in order to sustain this trend, Africa will have to create 15 million jobs a year and generate a GDP growth rate of more than 5% a year.    

In order to analyse these urgent matters, we have decided to organise our meeting today into three panels: the first is dedicated to the relationship between urbanisation and economic development; the second is on the social and environmental aspects of urban growth; and the third is on the implications in terms of peace and security. 

The leitmotif of the meeting is the aim to build a much stronger and more differentiated partnership between Italy and Africa. Italy, as one of the European Countries closest to Africa and most sensitive to your needs, aspires to become a “hub” for European investments in African cities. 

Energy, infrastructure, industry, transports, mechanics, technology, digitalisation, and SMEs: I would like these to be the “key words” in achieving the goal of “smart cities”: custom-built for citizens and capable to meet their concrete needs. 

And we are not talking about a far-off future. On the contrary, we already have some excellent examples in Africa: Konza City in Kenya, Kigali in Rwanda, and Diamnadio in Senegal which, through effective planning and favoured by digitalisation and renewable energy sources, have become virtuous models of successful urbanisation.

Italy is ready to provide greater assistance also in terms of Development Cooperation, seeking a convergence between the Agenda 2030 and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. Let me recall that our bilateral Public Development Aid in Africa is already 60% of the available resources (343 million euros). Our commitment has been further strengthened this year, with the establishment of the Africa Fund (200 million euros), that we are now refinancing through our Budget Bill.  

But it is not only a matter of resources. Italy’s Development Cooperation vaunts a long tradition and expertise in promoting “decentralised cooperation” between Regions, Provinces and Cities. And within the EU and the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) we have been the principal promoters of the “territorial approach”, namely the direct spread of knowledge, know-how and innovation among local authorities.

Over the years, we have involved more than 200 Regions, Provinces and Cities in projects of this type, from Morocco to Mozambique, investing in capacity-building and decentralisation processes that facilitate decision-making at local level, transparency and access to credit for agriculture, infrastructure and services. This creates the conditions in which SMEs can develop.  

There is another important experience that we would like to share with African cities: it is the experience of managing our urban fabric by combining tradition and innovation, compounding the upgrading of infrastructure with the protection of the artistic and cultural heritage and the development of tourism. 

Asmara, Maputo, Luanda, Addis Ababa, but also Timbuktu, Algiers, Ghadames, Marrakesh, Luxor, Windhoek: these are cities with an important historical and architectural history that deserves to be protected, safeguarded and valorised as a resource for the promotion of tourism and employment.

Also within the European Union, our African friends must know that in Italy they will always find an attentive advocate of Africa. We have stimulated the EU to take the path of a structured and continuing dialogue with African Countries. 

Europe can still do much for Africa. And it certainly cannot stand by and watch while Russia and China make enormous investments in Africa. Because, unlike Russia and China, Europe’s investment in Africa is an investment for a common destiny. Europe, because of its geography and history, is aware that in Africa – and in its cities – the very future of Europe and a much of the global equilibrium is at play.  

And let us not forget that Africa is a continent of very great opportunities. It is disconcerting to see that the African continent is considered to be poor by part of the European public opinion while it is instead immensely rich of all possible resources. Africa possesses 30% of the world’s mineral reserves and 10% of the world’s oil reserves. 

Italy believes in Africa. We are long-standing bilateral donors to the EU Trust Fund for Africa. And we believe that time has come for Europe to make a strategic decision and make a major investment in Africa. The new European External Investment Plan will also allocate resources to the issue of sustainable cities. But this is only the beginning and we need to be even more ambitious. 

This is the spirit with which Italy looks to the 5th EU-Africa Summit, which will take place in a couple of days in Abidjan, with the aim of plotting a new and more fruitful partnership between Europe and Africa. 

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