Meloni’s First Africa Summit: A Fresh Dialogue with Africa

, by Veronica Micallef

Meloni's First Africa Summit: A Fresh Dialogue with Africa
Italian Government, CC BY 3.0 IT <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

With Rome holding the presidency of the G7 Group of Nations this year, Italy has committed to making African development a central theme to focus on. In all, 45 African states were represented at the Italy-Africa Summit, with leaders from Somalia, Kenya, and the Republic of Congo, among others, participating in the event on Monday, January 29, 2024.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, being the first far-right leader since the end of the Second World War, has taken significant steps towards engaging with African states, outlining future plans and visions of collaboration. During her opening speech, Meloni presented a variety of projects aimed at the African continent and its diverse nations, committing an initial 5.5 billion Euros alongside state guarantees.

However, the proposal received a lukewarm reception from certain African representatives in attendance. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union Commission, expressed a desire for prior consultation with Africa regarding the initiative, highlighting a sentiment shared among many African leaders. They emphasized the importance of inclusion and collaboration in shaping policies that impact the continent. According to Meloni, the ultimate goal of these collaborations are based on supporting Africa in becoming a major energy exporter to Europe, especially amid European concerns over their dependency on Russian energy following the invasion of Ukraine. Italy aspires to serve as the European gateway for African energy, with the ‘Mattei Plan’ at the forefront of Meloni’s foreign policy since late 2022. Named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of Italian state oil company Eni, the plan has been allocated 2.8 million Euros annually up to 2026. It involves various projects related to sanitation, agriculture and health care for instance. However, its primary focus lies on energy needs, with Rome acting a bridge and channelling African natural gas to European markets, with countries like Libya and Egypt becoming Italy’s main gas suppliers in the coming years.

Moreover, Italy faces significant challenges due to a large spike in migration, with around 160,000 migrants moving to Italy last year alone. The government has emphasised the importance of curbing migration, aligning with its long-standing advocacy for stability and economic opportunities in Africa. The goal is to create employment opportunities and dissuade African youth from undertaking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. Meloni has also urged Europe to support industry and agriculture in Africa to boost their economies and deter Africans from migrating north.

“Mass immigration will never be stopped, human traffickers will never be defeated if we do not address the many causes that push a person to leave their home,” Meloni stated last week. “This is exactly what we intend to do.”

Critics argue that Italy, burdened with significant debt, faces formidable competition from countries such as China, Russia and Gulf states, all seeking to expand their influence in Africa due to its abundance of natural resources. Furthermore, Meloni’s plans have drawn criticism for being centred on fossil fuels rather than transitioning towards renewable energy to meet the needs of over 40% of Africans lacking access to energy. Rome’s strategy involves exchanging energy investments for initiatives reducing migration, though questions remain about the effectiveness of such endeavours.

Italy, once a colonial power in North Africa during its former fascist era, has previously hosted ministerial level African gatherings. However, Monday’s summit, convened at the Italian Senate showcase the dedication of all Italian public entities to the initiative, represents the first occasion at the head of state or government level. It is interesting to observe the future trajectory of Italian relations in Africa and the implementation and results of Meloni’s plans.

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