Linked by a strong bond
After replacing Ambassador Giuseppe Mistretta and on the hills of the Italian National day which falls today, Ambassador Arturo Luzzi reflects with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on his country, some of the highlights of the past year spent touring Ethiopia, on the dwindling local Italian community and on the areas he intends to focus on to strengthen the unbinding relationship between Italy and Ethiopia. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Now that you have been in Ethiopia for almost seven months, what has been some of the highlights so far?
Ambassador Arturo Luzzi: Ethiopia was my first post abroad as a diplomat, between 1989 and 1992; therefore, I have a strong emotional connection to this country. Coming back almost 25 years later brought to the surface many fond memories of my youth and allowed me to reconnect with some old friends and to know new ones. Ethiopia is a marvelous country and I’m very pleased to notice the enormous strides that the country has made in fighting poverty.
Let’s talk about trade and foreign investment. Several Italian investors have been invited through the Embassy and have visited Ethiopia as potential investors. How important are these efforts from the perspective of your nation?
The economic and commercial relations between Italy and Ethiopia are very important. Italy is one of Ethiopia’s main trade partners, the first supplier and the third destination for Ethiopian products in Europe. Several Italian companies have invested in Ethiopia, such as Salini Impregilo, IVECO, Enel Green Power, Calzedonia, Trevi, Messina Line, Erreà and Carvico. We are very pleased that Enel Green Power has been chosen for the construction of a 100 megawatt solar power plant in Metehara, Oromia Regional State in the framework of the project launched by Ethiopian Electric Power (“EEP”) within the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II).
All these companies and many more Italian and Ethio-Italian enterprises contribute to the Ethiopian socioeconomic development, providing job opportunities for Ethiopian citizens, including women and young people, and transferring know how and technologies from Italy to Ethiopia.
We are committed to improve these relations. The Italian Trade Agency office in Addis Ababa helps Italian and Ethiopian companies to get in touch, exchange information and create joint ventures. It also supports them participating in trade fairs (both in Italy and Ethiopia) in many sectors, such as stones and marble, construction, electrical equipment, pharmaceutics, water supply, renewable energy and other priority sectors for Ethiopia. Every year, the Italian Trade Agency organizes, on average, 20 missions to Italy for Ethiopian companies and 40 missions to Ethiopia for Italian entrepreneurs seeking investment opportunities and business partners here.
We therefore hope that the Ethiopian authorities will continue their action to further improve the business climate in the country, including by addressing critical issues, such as foreign currency availability, cumbersome customs procedures and bureaucracy.
What is the role of the Italian community in Ethiopia in the framework of the bilateral relations?
The Italian community in Ethiopia plays a crucial role for the deepness and richness of our bilateral relations, through its positive and constructive presence in the Ethiopian society in a wide number of sectors: from social activities to the economic and business sector and cultural sector. Many among them have distinguished themselves for their role in the development of the country, for the jobs they have created, for the important projects they have carried out, some of which have become important landmarks in Addis Ababa and in other cities of Ethiopia.
The presence of the Italian community is visible in many places, in particular in Addis Ababa. The Juventus Club has been promoting bonds between Italy and Ethiopia since the 1950’s.
Italy is one of the profoundly important partners of aid within Ethiopia. Could you share with me some of the current projects your nation is involved in?
Ethiopia has always been a priority partner for Italy. The Italian Development Cooperation has been working here since the 1960s. Since then, Italy has implemented many important initiatives in priority sectors such as agriculture and rural development, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene.
I am pleased to recall that the Ethio-Italian Cooperation Framework Agreement for 2017-2019 was signed on 15 September 2017, with a total budget of 125 million Euros. The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) support focuses on three main pillars: a) promotion and advancement of basic services; b) agro-industry and private sector development; c) governance and migration. Special attention will be paid to gender and nutrition as cross-cutting issues.
One of the common problems of Europe, including Italy, is the issue of migration. Your nation continues to engage locally, to try to bring made-in-Ethiopia solutions to prevent and discourage illegal migration to Europe. Could you share with me what some of these solutions are?
Italy is strongly engaged in addressing the issue of migration through a variety of complementary initiatives. The cooperation with Ethiopia in this field is very constructive, including within the framework of the Khartoum process, which Italy currently chairs. Just to mention a few initiatives in this sector, in November 2017 the Italian Authorities, together with the Community of Sant’Egidio and Caritas, started a “humanitarian corridor” initiative from Ethiopia to Italy. The objective of this initiative is to grant refugees in “vulnerable conditions” (victims of persecution, torture and violence, as well as families with children, elderly people, sick people, and persons with disabilities) legal entry to the Italian territory with humanitarian visa and support for their settlement in Italy, with the possibility to apply for asylum. Five hundred refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan will be benefiting from this initiative until November 2018, also thanks to the close collaboration with the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) and relevant UN Agencies.
Italy is also implementing the EU funded “Stemming Irregular Migration in Northern and Central Ethiopia – SINCE” Programme. This initiative aims at tackling the root causes of irregular migration, such as unemployment, creating the conditions for young people to be employed in their respective regions by creating job opportunities in different sectors as construction, metal works, agro-industry and leather sector. The SINCE is implemented in four Regional States (Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region and Tigray) and Addis Ababa. Different stakeholders are involved in identifying solutions and promoting activities, such as technical and vocational centers, private and public institutions, and civil society organizations.
The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation is also supporting humanitarian initiatives through multilateral agencies and Italian Civil Society Organizations in favour of refugees, environmental IDPs, potential migrant and returnees, including the promotion of economic and employment opportunities, with specific attention dedicated to youth and women.
Italy and Ethiopia are also cooperating in other fields. Could you provide some examples?
Apart from what I already mentioned, Italy and Ethiopia are closely working together in many other fields, such as culture and environment.
Italy has always attached great importance to the cultural cooperation with Ethiopia. Since 1956, Addis Ababa has been hosting one of the largest Italian schools abroad, with a student population of over 800. In addition to providing language courses, since 1964 the Italian Institute of Culture is a vibrant actor of the Addis cultural scene, offering a variety of cultural events, including theatre, dance, music, films and art exhibitions. We believe that the Italian School and Institute of Culture are key tools to promote mutual understanding and friendship. Several Italian archeological missions are currently working in different parts of Ethiopia, contributing to the preservation and promotion of the Ethiopian cultural heritage for current and future generations.
We have also great confidence in the future of our cooperation in the environmental sector. In 2016, Italy and Ethiopia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote joint initiatives in the field of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The Italian Ministry of Environment is co-financing these initiatives for a total amount of 2 million euros. According to the Work Plan that we approved last year, the activities will focus on developing climate information and early-warning systems for extreme events, managing and preserving forests, promoting a sustainable and resilient agriculture, improving irrigation and water treatment, saving and collection systems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and capacity-building.
What is your analysis of the cooperation between Italy and Ethiopia for peace and security?
Italy and Ethiopia have excellent and very constructive cooperation in this field, including within the regional and international Organizations, such as IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations. We believe that Ethiopia is a key partner for peace and security in Africa. Ethiopia in particular plays a crucial role in the Horn of Africa: we appreciate its positive and constructive approach in addressing the many threats and challenges in this region.
How do you see the relationship between Italy and Ethiopia in the next decade?
Italy and Ethiopia enjoy longstanding bilateral ties, dating back to 1880. Our bilateral relations have gone through intense and sometimes complex historical phases and today our two countries are linked by a strong bond of friendship, built on a foundation of solidarity and mutual understanding. I am personally convinced that the coming years will be for our bilateral relations even brighter and richer. The rapid development of Ethiopia opens new possibilities of collaboration with Italy not only for economic and trade initiatives but also for new projects in the cultural and educational field. Italy is ready to strengthen and widen the scope of its cooperation with Ethiopia and I am confident that our Ethiopian friends will share our vision of the future.