Dear Editor, returning from my fruitful mission in Senegal, I have asked myself how to revitalise the issue of Africa in the Italian political discourse. Prime Minister Conte, Minister Di Maio and other members of the Government have visited Africa, and I too have been on a number of missions there. Of the 22 Priority Countries singled out by the Cooperation Development, 11 are in Africa, and in the other Countries there are many exchanges and activities under way, including cooperation on migration issues. Yet Africa, in the Italian collective imagination, seems to be associated solely with humanitarian aid. Nothing is further from the truth.
If we look at what is happening in the continent we notice that our partners, and other stakeholders, in Africa are intensifying their relations, both because they see opportunities for investment and trade, and for security reasons. Not just China: Brazil, European States, Russia, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Gulf States, India and others. There are many comings and goings, to sign economic agreements or make investments. These relations are practically redesigning the continent, in which several cosmopolitan leaders with a fresh vision of their countries and region are now emerging. A dynamism in which Italy is cutting out a role for itself, with our enterprises, military personnel in the Sahel, Djibouti and Somalia — to mention but a few — research activities, especially in the aerospace and archaeological sectors, agricultural projects for sustainable development, and much more besides. But all this doesn’t make it into the news. South Africa, which I visited last December, is by far our biggest trade partner in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there have been no official visits there since 2007, and the results of my recent mission raised no interest in the press. Our involvement in the Sahel region is rather recent, with the opening of Embassies in Niger and Burkina Faso, and a greater role by us is strongly supported by the Countries in the region. In the Horn of Africa we are engaged in re-establishing strong, ongoing, intense and direct relations. The strength of our soft power approach lies in the attraction that many feel towards the Italian lifestyle and in the phrase that I hear all the time from Africans — from heads of state to ordinary people — that Italy has no hidden agenda, which is why we are welcomed there with enthusiasm and open arms. I also like to add that we can offer quality, tradition-based innovation and true sustainability, which meets the current needs of many African contexts and the imperatives of the 2030 Agenda.
We are a great country, and we need to seriously accelerate in Asia, the larger markets, of course, but we must also build a vision for investments returning in the long term, it’s true, but with a higher return on the capital, because there are important indicators, such as the very fast rate of demographic growth in Africa, with new consumers and workers for the market. We need to see Africa to understand what’s going on there, to look at the world also from the viewpoint of the African people. The telecoms market is immense. The agri-food sector is growing at an amazing speed, like the renewable energy sources (fields in which Italy is already involved, but we can do a lot more). The cultural output is extraordinary: the Chinese have understood this and are currently building museums for the Africans.
From a fundamental multilateral perspective, we also need to take into account the political influence of the African countries, where many international organisations are based, the African Union first and foremost, also considering that many of the highest positions in the United Nations are occupied by Africans. Moreover, the continent also hosts the group of Countries with the most consistent voting record at the General Assembly of the United Nations. The world today is a village and the Zulu huts are no further away than our metropolises, because we are all projected towards a shared future that requires a shared development.
So, Mr. Editor, how can we revitalise the issue of Africa? By changing the narrative and abandoning the Orientalist stereotypes that belong to a very remote past — we are even beyond post-colonialism! — and looking beyond the 5-year horizon, reasoning about how interconnected and interdependent we all are and how our problems are also theirs and vice versa, speaking in a more universal Afro-Italian language with everybody, developing strategies with the African diaspora. Something Italy can and must do, according to a development process in which the rhythm of progress in Africa is accelerated. We have all the qualities for creating solid, fair and profitable partnerships with and for everyone, so we can’t lag on behind. It’s high time to put Africa in the headlines.