Address by the Hon. Minister at the celebration of Africa Day

Farnesina, 25 May 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)

President Casini,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to echo the very beautiful words in the message of the President of the Republic and address a heartfelt welcome to everybody attending this marvellous event dedicated to Africa.

We are honoured by the presence of the Ambassadors of the African Countries and of so many “friends of Africa” who have at heart Italy’s partnership with this marvellous Continent. 

As you know, I was born in a corner of Sicily where Europe ends and Africa begins. If it were humanly possible, beyond the Mediterranean, I would see Africa.  

In my province lies the Island of Lampedusa, 113 km from Africa. The Island is now the symbol of Italy’s solidarity in facing the tragedy of migration flows along the central Mediterranean route. 

As an Italian, I am proud that my Country has rescued and continues to save human lives in the Mediterranean. I can proudly say – in the wake of what was already said by the president of Niger and the president of the European Commission – that Italy has saved the honour of Europe. Italy has positioned itself on the right side of history.

The Mediterranean is the sea that joins us to Africa. I would like to tell our diplomats that our foreign policy should also be directed towards the Mediterranean and Africa. Because the development of the Mediterranean and of Africa means peace, security and prosperity for our people.

Much has been said, during the last few months, about Brexit and the future of Europe. But our eyes were looking North while the future of Europe lies South! Towards the Mediterranean and Africa. 

Africa Day celebrates multilateralism because it recalls the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity. 

Today, the demarcation line between right and left in politics is fading. Horizons have changed and the new division is increasingly between populists and internationalists. Between those who close up and those who open up to the world.

As internationalists, we must defend multilateralism. It would be impossible to tackle this century’s enormous challenges on one’s own, without resorting to this vital instrument. 

Africa is therefore the focus of Italy’s attention within the UN Security Council, where we are resolutely committed to contribute to preventing conflicts.  And I am particularly happy to be able to announce to you today a new contribution of 500.000 euros that Italy has allocated to the MINUSMA Mission (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) to implement projects aimed at assuring the security of the centre-north area of Mali and to combat cross-border threats.  

We could say that for Italian diplomacy it is not only “the day of Africa” but the “month of Africa”!

On 27 May, at the G7 Summit in Taormina, there will be an outreach session with Africa. The event will be attended by the African Union, different Heads of State and Government and the senior officials of some of the world’s major international Organisations. We will talk about innovation and developing human capital in fostering the sustainable and inclusive growth of the African Continent. 

On 6 July, here in Rome, we will host the Ministerial Meeting with the Countries of Transit of migration flows, in partnership with the German Foreign Minister Gabriel and the High Representative of the European Union, Mogherini. Present will be all the main African Countries concerned, the EU Countries and specialised international Organisations. We want to tackle this crucial issue with the spirit of cooperation that is at the root of multilateralism.   

Let us not forget that this is a very important year also for the relations between Africa and the European Union, with the 5th Africa-EU Summit scheduled in Abidjan in November. Within this important multilateral context, Italy is in the forefront in Brussels in promoting that Abidjan outline a new and rich partnership between our two continents, with a focus also on the issue of youth. 

The theme of youth is something I particularly have at heart because it is a challenge that is common to all of us. We must do more on both shores of the Mediterranean. 

In Italy, we have seen youth unemployment grow mostly because of the unbalances within the Eurozone, which have had a devastating impact on the lives and expectations of so many of our youths.

We cannot and must not hide behind econometric models and technocratic explanations to tell millions of Italian and European citizens that their unemployment, their need to emigrate to find a job, is a mere consequence of the rebalancing needed in order to establish an “optimal monetary area”. 

The problem is political and it requires political solutions. 

In Africa, 6 out of 10 Africans are under 25 years of age; African youths will double between now and 2050 from roughly 230 million to more than 450 million. For many African Countries, it is essential that population growth be matched by adequate job opportunities. 

In addition, “democratic fatigue” is growing among our youth, both African and European. The exercise of active and passive electoral rights is dropping dangerously among our youths. This fuels the sentiment that politics does not pursue their interests.

We must put youth back at the centre of the political agenda and of public debate. We must give absolute priority to their training, entrepreneurship and access to the labour market.  

Releasing the energy of youths primarily means investing in cultural innovation strategies and in the quality of the training model.

Education and culture remain our best allies in order to support their growth. Because poverty and radicalisation take root in ignorance and the lack of education, both in Africa and Europe. It is no coincidence that education is also a priority of our Cooperation efforts with so many of our African partner Countries. 

I have already mentioned the Ministerial Meeting to be held in Rome on 6 July, but I cannot help going back to our generation’s major issue: the migration crisis.   

I believe that, up to now, Italy has well proven that solidarity and security can be assured at the same time. And that it is unfair to equate immigration with insecurity.  

We have stimulated the EU to take the path of structured and constant dialogue with African Countries. The aim is to share responsibility between the Countries of origin, transit and destination.  

In addition to putting the theme at the centre of Europe’s agenda, we promoted a model focused on the “deep causes” of migration crises, also becoming one of the first Member Countries to manage the EU Trust Fund for Africa.

At bilateral level, last February I launched the 200-million-euro “Africa Fund” for Libya, Tunisia and Niger, but also for other important Countries such as the Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia, Senegal and Sudan.

In this effort, a major role is played by Development Cooperation. Only a few weeks ago, the President of the African Development Bank sounded an alarm on the global financial level of Cooperation – which risks being downsized – especially because of the wave of populism that is pervading the world.

Italy has been going against the mainstream for some time now: Italy’s Public Development Aid to Africa is now 51% of the resources bilaterally allocated to our partner Countries. 

A few days ago, I practically doubled the Cooperation service’s resources allocated to NGOs from 24 to 40 million euros, many of which have a long tradition of working in Africa. 

Overall, the Italian Government has acted with great determination to “reverse the trend” in Cooperation: in 2012, Public Development Aid amounted to 0.14% of Gross National Income (2.1 billion euros); today, the preliminary estimates by the OECD for 2016 forecast that Public Development Aid will amount to 0.26% of GNI (4.3 billion euros). 

Today we are the fourth-largest donor among the G7 Countries (on an equal standing with Canada in percentage terms) but we are aware that this is a point of departure and not a point of arrival: our goal is to reach 0.30% by 2020, in the effort to fulfil the pledge of 0.7% envisaged by the 2030 Agenda.

Our interventions are inspired by the priorities set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda and in the 2063 Agenda of the African Union, and try to single out possible convergences between the two.

I always affirm this with great conviction: Africa is a continent with enormous opportunities. It is disturbing to see how part of public opinion considers the African continent as poor while it is instead immensely rich of every possible resource. Africa possesses approximately 30% of the world’s mineral reserves (especially cobalt, platinum, uranium and diamonds) and 10% of global oil reserves. 

In the last few years, Sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the world’s fastest growing regions. Since 2008, its average annual GDP growth has been close to 4%. Many African countries continue to grow at a yearly rate of more than 5%. And the middle classes are growing after the per capita income has more than doubled during the last decade.

As one of Europe’s closest countries to Africa and most sensitive to your needs, Italy aims to become a “hub” for European investments in Africa. 

Energy, infrastructure, transports, machinery and SMEs; these are what I would like to become the key words in relaunching our partnership. 

Especially now that confidence is growing in Europe. Consumer confidence has peaked to a level unseen in the last ten years and this will also bolster investors’ desire to invest. 

The question of investments is something that I would like to highlight in front of the African Ambassadors and that I intend to repeat at the Conference of Italian Ambassadors to be held here in Rome in July.  

It was a crucial point on the agenda of the First Italy-Africa Conference in 2016 but I would like to give it an even greater operational and tangible significance at the Second Italy-Africa Conference in 2018, by starting to work with you – as of now – to outline new proposals.  

I have further explored the idea of turning Italy into the hub of European investments in Africa also thanks to the very detailed study carried out by Attorney Stefano Simontacchi. 

One of the main ways of setting up a preferential hub in Italy for foreign investments from Europe to Africa would surely be based on greater attention for tax factors.

We need to make an effort, together, to make a quantum leap in our network of commercial agreements and conventions, both with a view to avoiding double taxation and to protect investments. It is a “network” that we must not only extend but also improve qualitatively from the perspective of investors. 

We must also make a mutual effort to simplify our internal tax rules and fill any eventual loophole in order to facilitate investments. 

If necessary, in all these sectors, Italy is ready to provide greater assistance also in the area of Cooperation, in order to support those Countries that want to pursue this road together with us.  

Underpinning this economic effort there is a growing political commitment, testified by the change of pace and intensity in the political meetings with African Countries.  

Let me remind you that this year we succeeded to obtain a staffing increase in the personnel contracted by our diplomatic missions in Africa, also thanks to the great attention that the Italian Parliament has for Africa.  

Still this year, we have opened an Embassy in Niger, we reopened our Embassy in Libya and we count on soon opening an Italian Embassy in Guinea Conakry. 

I would like to conclude by quoting the words spoken by Julius Nyerere in 1997: My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward”.

His call twenty years ago was an appeal of hope and today it is an increasingly promising reality.   

Thank you very much. 

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