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Italy unveils details of ambitious Africa plan

January 31, 2024 at 12:21 pm

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni attends a joint press conference with African Union President Azali Assoumani (not seen) at the end of the Italy-Africa conference at the Italian Senate in Rome, Italy, on January 29, 2024 [Riccardo De Luca – Anadolu Agency]

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni launched a much-awaited Italy-Africa summit on Monday aimed at unveiling concrete projects of her ambitious plan to reset relationships between Europe and Africa, curbing illegal migration flows and turning Italy into a hub for energy supplies from Africa to Europe, Anadolu has reported.

Speaking at the Italian Senate in front of more than 20 African leaders and senior EU representatives, Meloni provided the first details of the so-called Mattei Plan, named after the founder of Italy’s oil and gas company ENI. In her opening speech, she cited as examples pilot renewable energy projects from Morocco to Ethiopia and Kenya, adding that they could be replicated in all African countries that will express interest in these new forms of investments.

The initial resources available to finance the plan total €5.5 billion ($5.95bn), including credits and cooperation funds, the Italian premier said, sparking scepticism over the limited financial firepower.

Meloni stressed that the Mattei Plan will be based on “a new approach: not predatory, not paternalistic, but not charitable either,” and that it will start a new page in the relationships between Europe and the African countries, with economic and strategic partnerships among “equals”.

Over the past few months, the Meloni government – which has made stopping illegal migration to Italy one of its top priorities – had only revealed six macro areas in which its development plan for Africa would focus: education, food, water, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

The prime minister has also named Africa as a key theme of Italy’s G-7 presidency, which started this month, as part of its drive to “restore centrality to the Mediterranean.”

In the past year in government, however, she has also sealed controversial bilateral agreements with individual countries, such as Tunisia and Albania, aimed at discouraging the departure of migrants from North Africa and creating structures to process asylum applications outside Italian territory.

Opposition parties and African organisations held protests on Monday and organised a sort of counter-summit outside the Italian lower house to express their doubts about the real content of the Mattei Plan. According to them, despite the government’s slogans, it is inspired by a “neocolonial” approach that will end up exploiting Africa’s massive natural resources, without introducing new forms of development.

Open criticism of Meloni’s approach also came from one of the first African speakers at the summit, African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, who stressed that African countries would have liked to be consulted before Italy unveiled its plan for Africa. “We need to pass from words to actions,” Faki said. “We cannot be happy with promises that are never maintained.”

Meloni defended the Italian plan in her conclusions, saying that Monday’s summit was just a preliminary phase of discussion with the African partners, adding that it will be followed by specific programmes and strict timelines for each cooperation project. “This is not a closed box that we are imposing from above,” explained Meloni. “It’s a plan of concrete and feasible objectives that will be achieved step by step.”

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