Why Italy is giving priority to Africa’s development

Wednesday January 13 2010

By FRANCO FRATTINI

ITALY IS PAYING CLOSER ATTENT-ion to Africa in the conviction that there is a different continent from the one traditionally depicted as a land of poverty, disease and conflict.

Africa is a young continent with enormous potential in terms of human capital. It is a continent which is not just a major supplier of raw materials, but also a market of 900 million consumers, with great potential for investment.

On the political level, Africa has become a key partner in the dialogue on strategic issues such as energy security. And it is a vital partner in addressing global challenges, from climate change to combating terrorism.

I was able to see this for myself during my visit to West Africa in February 2009, and I wish to find out more during my forthcoming visit to Mauritania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

OF COURSE, NONE OF THIS MEANS that the serious problems and many contradictions that afflict Africa are close to a solution. This is so, especially at a time when the continent’s development has been brought to a sharp halt by the economic-financial and food crises.

For this reason too, we decided to make Africa the focus of the Italian G-8 presidency. We invited a significant number of African countries to take part in the G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, for the first time as fully entitled political actors.

Concrete decisions were made at L’Aquila to resolve certain crucial African problems, such as access to food and water. Most notably, the industrialised countries and emerging economies pledged $20 billion to help improve food security in the continent.

Moreover, the G-8 leaders confirmed their Public Development Aid (PDA) commitments. They re-launched the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Agenda as a driver of growth in developing countries, and approved an initiative to halve the average transaction costs for migrants’ remittances.

Of course, Africa’s problems did not come to an end with the G-8 Summit in L’Aquila. But the foundations were laid to build a better future for the continent. A better future requires a new “Pact for Africa” between the continent on the one hand, and the industrialised countries and emerging economies on the other.

It is up to Africa itself, however, to shape its destiny. And it is up to African governments to exercise their responsibilities in making political decisions that concern them, hence the need to move on from a donor-receiver mindset and develop political dialogue among equals.

There is an awareness that the EU-Africa partnership could be the right instrument to make it easier to achieve two goals: the creation of an African peace and security architecture, and the economic integration of the continent. There are essentially four directions to follow to develop the Europe-Africa partnership: security and peace-keeping; regional crises and forgotten conflicts; rights and democracy; and a new way to “do” development.

African security and European security are closely related. Phenomena such as illegal immigration, arms and drugs trafficking, terrorism, organised crime and piracy must be tackled together. One encouraging factor is the continent’s increased willingness to take responsibility for managing the crises that afflict it and for seeking solutions.

The African Union and sub-regional organisations are playing a growing role in fostering peace. Italy is one of the leading supporters of the AU’s engagement, not least through the ‘‘Italian Africa Peace Facility’’, an ad hoc financial instrument.

WE ENCOURAGED THE G-8 TO MAKE commitments to support regional training centres in Africa, whose activities should increasingly be linked to those of centres of excellence in G-8 countries. We must also continue to invest in democratic institutions to encourage good governance and combat maladministration and corruption, which undermine prospects for development.

At the same time, we must make every effort to ensure that the inalienable rights of African citizens are increasingly recognised and respected. Italy is in the front line in these sectors, especially the rights of women and children. Lastly, development aid of a paternalistic nature must be eliminated once and for all.

We need to change our approach and focus aid on structural growth and development of African societies. We must invest more, and more wisely, in Africa’s “human capital” by building more schools and universities, and giving African students more opportunities to study abroad.

Mr Frattini is Italy’s Foreign Minister. He will be on a visit to Kenya on Thursday..