The first Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference taking place in Rome precedes by only a few days the 53rd anniversary of the African Union and is an authoritative testimony of the attention that Italy pays to the Continent. The Conference’s main focus was on the «sustainable development» of Africa: in terms of peace and security, economic growth, the environment and migration. It is an initiative that we intend to repeat every two years in order to lay the grounds for an equal, stable and long-term partnership between Italy and the whole African Continent, its single Countries and regional organisations.
When speaking about Africa, Nelson Mandela used to present it as a «region with a vast and still intact potential». Indeed, Italy sees Africa as a land of opportunities that will play a major role in the 21st Century, precisely by virtue of its yet untapped potential: human, political, economic and cultural. Italy is concretely working to also transmit this awareness to Europe. Europe must give priority to Africa also because the next few years will be decisive to understand the direction taken by the Continent’s development model. In this new century, many African countries have recorded significant progress in terms of political stability, economic growth and social standards. Hope, which seemed to have been forlorn, has made a comeback in Africa. But there are still many challenges to be met to achieve a truly sustainable development, starting with population growth. By 2050 the African population will double to 2.5 billion people. It will therefore become essential to create economic opportunities for new generations. Jobs, the dissemination of education and culture and the empowerment of women in society are the ways of combating the risk of social instability and radicalisation.
Looking beyond the economic prospects, it is now time to recognise that Africa has acquired a new international political subjectivity: from recipients of aid, African Countries have become full-fledged partners of Europe, the United States and China. This is why we are now able to speak of the centrality of Africa in global dynamics. Without Africa globalisation is incomplete. Without close cooperation with Africa it is no longer possible to effectively tackle international issues such as terrorism, migration flows, energy security, human and drug trafficking and climate change.
In pursuing this renewed cooperation, Italy will continue to approach Africa with great respect. It is on these terms of equal partnership that we propose to the different Countries to cooperate in finding common solutions to the global challenges we face. And it is with this same spirit that Italy has put forward its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for 2017-2018, and is preparing to launch a significant outreach action towards Africa during Italy’s presidency of the G7, scheduled for 2017. In short, the message is clear: Italy has chosen to strategically pin its hopes on the future of Africa. Our long-term investment on the Continent’s sustainable development mainly focus on three macro-areas: firstly, the sustainability of security and peace. The number of conflicts in Africa has decreased during the last few years. The African Union and other sub-regional organisations play an important role in fostering stability. However, fundamentalist terrorism represents an increasingly insidious menace, with the Boko Haram and Shabaab militant groups’ high penetration potential. And Italy is in the front line in the fight against terrorism, in fostering the stabilisation process in Libya, Somalia and the Horn of Africa, and in reinforcing Africa’s capacity to respond to the crises affecting the Continent. In this respect, I would like to recall the Italian Africa Peace Facility and the commitment we assure at bilateral level to prevention and mediation activities, also through our chairmanship of the IGAD Partner Forum. I would also like to recall the training programmes organised by the Vicenza-based COESPU, the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza, in close collaboration with the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and other sub-regional organisations. In order to assure the security of Africa and of the «Mediterranean enlargement», we need to disrupt the vicious circle between economic and social vulnerabilities, failing States and the encroaching jihadist extremism. This means that it is necessary to reinforce the States’ «resilience». Italy therefore supports Africa’s interest, as authoritatively expressed by President Zuma, in reinforcing peace-building activities, which are essential in the consolidation of post-crisis societies and in building truly inclusive and representative State institutions.
The second focus of Italy’s strategic commitment concerns the sustainability of economic development, in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the 2063 Agenda of the African Union. Africa’s GDP will continue to grow in the coming years. However, in the light of the recent difficulties due to the fall in the price of raw materials, it has become increasingly compelling to pass structural reforms to modernise agriculture, manage urbanisation processes, diversify the production system, build new infrastructures, upgrade technology and boost intra-Africa trade. Italy has a relevant role to play. With trade volumes at 38 billion, we rank as Africa’s 6th or 7th largest trade partner, despite the drop in energy imports from Libya. In the next few years our trade volumes are forecast to grow at a rate of approximately 5%. Our companies, by offering business models based on collaborating with local companies, are full-fledged partners in our strategy on Africa. And, leveraging the experience acquired through the Milan Expo, they will contribute to Africa’s food security, to integrating Africa’s agriculture in global value chains, to improving health care services, to providing training activities and creating jobs, especially for young people and women. They will also favour a «sustainable green revolution» through the spread of renewable energy sources and electricity distribution projects. Promoting the so-called «green growth» of the African Continent is a crucial challenge in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Italy actively participates in important initiatives dedicated to Africa in this sector, such as the "Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa" or the "Africa Climate Change Fund", both managed by the African Development Bank. Increasingly violent climate phenomena causing famines keep entire African regions in a chronic state of emergency, ever more often forcing people to move and creating so-called “climate refugees”. El Niño, which threatened the survival of 28 million people in Africa, is only the latest emergency to which Italy has responded with a 10 million euro plan to guarantee food security to the vulnerable populations of the Countries affected.
After peace and security and economic and environmental development, the third macro-area of strategic investment concerns the sustainability of migration flows. Between 2010 and 2015, almost two million African migrants came to Europe. However the phenomenon is not exclusive to Africa: suffice it to think of the sizable flow of Syrians who, during the last year, have reached Europe through the “Balkans route”, or the fact that in 2015, 60 million people were forced to migrate worldwide. In Europe, Italy was the first, and initially sole, Country to define the issue in its factual terms: namely that it is not a temporary emergency but a global long-term challenge therefore requiring a common and forward-looking response capable of fulfilling our values. This is why we saw it as a moral imperative to rescue tens of thousands of migrants at sea while crossing the Mediterranean, an effort we are greatly proud of and that we want to continue. This is why we strongly promoted the Valletta Summit on Migration and before that – together with the Countries of the Horn of Africa – the Khartoum Process. And this is also why we proposed the "Migration Compact" and put EU-Africa cooperation at the very top of the European agenda. Of course we have already concentrated efforts on quickly translating this initiative into tangible facts. The next phase will be the June meeting of the European Council, which we have requested to pass a wide-spectrum operations plan for Africa, enabling the quick implementation of the first pilot projects. Through the "Migration Compact", Italy assumes a “spearheading” and “bridging” role between the «old Continent» and the Continent of youth. In order to tackle the new global challenges facing us, Italy, Europe and Africa, united by the Mediterranean, must work together with courage and far-sightedness, in the conviction that, besides our common history and geography, we also share the same fate.