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‘Africa Act’ heralds a new era of cooperation between Italy and Africa 0

Rome (Italy) – The Italian Democratic Party (PD) presented on last 28 July at the Chamber of Deputies the ‘Africa Act’, “package of measures to revitalize the relations between Italy and the African continent, in a logic of co-development.” But what does it mean in practice? Lia Quartapelle, deputy and member of the Democratic Party, explains for and its African media partners the reasons of this new initiative based on three pillars: education and culture, employment and sustainable development.

Exactly two years ago in July 2014, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi jetted off for official visits to Angola, the Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. These visits marked the start of Italy’s new political focus on Africa – a region that is becoming increasingly important for our foreign policy.

The Prime Minister subsequently embarked on further visits – to Kenya and Ethiopia in 2015, and to Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal in 2016. In early August this year, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni, headed to Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire in the latest of a series of visits by the minister and other government figures to the continent. Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s visit to Ethiopia and Cameroon and the launch of the first Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference – held in Rome on 18 May 2016 – further reflect Italy’s unprecedented interest in Africa and stand testament to the continent’s established place high on the political agenda.

Now, more than ever before, Africa is a linchpin of geopolitical stability and sustainable development challenges. Mass migration and the Mediterranean crises have brought into sharp focus the continent’s importance to foreign policy – not just in Italy but throughout the European Union. It is true that Africa faces multiple threats, from Islamic terrorism, fragile states and climate change, yet if the population growth forecasts are true, then 54 African countries will see their populations double in the next 30 years.

Ethiopia – one of the largest and most populous countries on the continent and of critical importance for Italy and the EU – is a case in point. The country is currently experiencing an unprecedented drought driven by the El Niño weather pattern. Yet this is not the only reason why things are heating up in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims – historically confined to the Maghreb and Mashriq regions – is now upsetting the socio-political balance in a number of countries across the region.

Instability in the Horn of Africa and other regions such as the Sahel has grave implications, both now and in the future. This situation is further exacerbating fragility in the region, and the unpredictable mass migration across the Mediterranean is just the tip of the iceberg. Italy has therefore decided to rise to the challenge and take a fresh approach, dispelling the long-standing view of Africa as a disadvantaged outlier. Instead, it is viewed as a continent of strategic importance – a crucible of social transformation with economic, political and security implications that reach far beyond its own borders. The challenge now is to work with all African partners to make the transition from a continent of threats and social misery to one of positive opportunities for the future.

Italy’s political commitment will only be successful if it is anchored in effective instruments. Italy has recently introduced a European Migration Compact, calling on Brussels and EU Member States to work together to create a joint fund for investment and sustainable development in Africa. Alongside its sustained humanitarian efforts to save many lives in the Strait of Sicily, the Italian government has also devised a new strategy to improve the impact of the EU’s external migration policy. All European partners who share the same objectives are now working with the European Commission and Parliament to accelerate the EU’s Africa policy. The ultimate aim is to sign a wide-ranging Europe-Africa pact.

Italy is fully aware that it needs to play a central role in this process, given the peninsula’s strategic importance in relations between the two continents – and not just from a geographical perspective. Our aim is to build on our close ties with a number of African partners to take our relationship with the continent in a new direction.

On 28 July, the Democratic Party Parliamentary Group in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies tabled a set of ideas and policies to strengthen relations with Africa and to work with the continent on an equal footing.

The new ‘Africa Act’ will set out the scope of this work and will be based on three pillars: education and culture, employment and sustainable development, and stability and security for African and Italian societies. The new Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) will be responsible for technical coordination of all interventions, and a new trust fund will be created, using innovative public and private funding mechanisms, to support our work.

The ‘Africa Act’ will include a range of measures to strengthen human capital, including “dual-award degrees”, bursaries and internships for African and Italian students. We also plan to offer support to small and medium-sized businesses and agricultural cooperatives in Africa, to introduce micro-credit support schemes and to look at ways to reduce money transfer fees for migrants, as part of efforts to boost economic growth. We also intend to launch initiatives to promote peace and stability across the continent. This will involve a series of programmes to prevent and counter radicalisation and violent extremism, both in Africa and here in Italy.

One of the flagship measures of the proposed ‘Africa Act’ is the creation of an “Africa Cooperation Day”. This politically important event will take place on 25 May (the anniversary of the foundation of the African Union), offering an opportunity to discuss relations between our country and the continent, to strengthen the role of diasporas and to stimulate political debate and media and public interest.

Although the Mediterranean is the bridge between Africa and Europe, the death of 4,000 migrants at sea in the last six months is a stark reminder of the fact that the destinies of both continents are inextricably intertwined. The new ‘Africa Act’ reflects the political ambition of Italy’s Democratic Party – to envisage a shared future in which crises are replaced by wealth, stability and peace.

* Lia Quartapelle is a member of Italy’s Democratic Party and was elected as a Member of Parliament in 2013. She is the party’s representative on the Committee on Foreign and European Community Affairs. A recognised expert in African affairs, she coordinated the Africa programme at the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI, Milan), between 2009 and 2013.

© Addis Fortune, Vita/Afronline (Italy).

This article was published in the framework of an editorial project co-financed by Directorate General for Globalization and Global Issues (DGMO) of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI), gathering 25 African independent media.

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