Italy-Africa:resources, sustanility and role of civil society


For the Mattei Plan to produce tangible results, it is necessary to focus on the creation of new jobs and also involve small and medium-sized Italian companies. Civil society organisations that have been active on the continent for years can add value. For this it is indispensable to involve them, but it is also essential to listen to the countries to which the investments are destined

Article by LINK 2007 President Roberto Ridolfi published in VITA NON PROFIT HERE

The recent Italy-Africa summit has already had an initial positive effect: it has shifted political attention south of the mare nostrum, to countries rich in natural resources and with great potential for growth. Not only demographic growth, the most stigmatised and feared by a section of Italian public opinion, but also economic and social growth. Suffice it to say that the new African middle class, made up of younger generations that have not experienced decolonisation, now numbers more than 300 million people. The continent’s historical plagues – hunger, poverty, conflicts – have certainly not been erased, but the current opportunities for development are probably unprecedented in African history.

Concreteness and sustainability

For this renewed focus to translate into concrete results, it is necessary to put the concept of sustainability, a word that still appears too little in government documents, at the centre, and to create jobs. Only through good employment can the right not to migrate be realised. With this in mind, it is necessary to involve not only giants such as Enel and Eni, but also small and medium-sized Italian companies capable of working as a system, which alone are unable to cross national borders.

Criticism of the summit and dialogue with the government

Several organisations from the Italian non-governmental world have complained about the lack of an invitation to participate in the work of the summit. From this point of view, the dialogue that LINK 2007 and the other networks initiated with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Edmondo Cirielli is proving fruitful. In addition to expressing sincere appreciation for the work done by Italian NGOs, the deputy minister explained that the Mattei Plan will be included in the broader context of Law 125 for Development Cooperation. The aim is to make it an additional tool, capable of mobilising private resources while preserving the public resources already earmarked for cooperation. A pragmatic and coherent approach that we hope will bear fruit in the coming months. For this, it will be essential to have the courage to go beyond consolidated administrative schemes and procedures and to succeed in leveraging European funds with ad hoc calls, thus multiplying resources and restoring Italy’s strategic role as a leader in relations with the African continent.

Involving Civil Society and Beneficiary Countries

There are good reasons to believe that the presence of civil society in the implementation of the programmes resulting from the Italy-Africa Summit will be important, as it is in the present of Italian cooperation. The meeting in Rome is in fact only a starting point of a path destined to calibrate its trajectory in the coming months. The added value that organisations that have been active for years in Africa can offer, with their unique heritage of knowledge, is inalienable. This is why it is essential to involve them, but the countries to which the investments are destined must also be listened to, as clearly requested by the president of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat: “on the Mattei Plan, African countries expect to be consulted to discuss its outlines and implementation methods”.

The knot of resources

There is also the unknown factor of funding, which at the moment amounts to 5.5 billion euro between loans and donations. A truly small sum for the objectives set by the Plan. If it is a good thing that about 3 billion are taken from the Italian Climate Fund, which has not been used so far, the same cannot be said for the 2.5 billion from the Development Cooperation Fund. Link 2007 is one of the promoters of the 070 campaign, which calls for 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to be allocated to development cooperation. Instead, we are stuck at 0.32% (OECD data, 2022), a percentage that barely makes it possible to carry out humanitarian interventions and a few donation operations. If these funds are significantly increased and, above all, if we know how to leverage the much more important European funds, there may then be sufficient resources for productive investments, for actions with a social impact and the fight against inequalities, and finally for humanitarian aid. Then, taking advantage of the G7 presidency, Italy could promote a dialogue on the conversion of African countries’ public debt through the creation of sustainable development funds to create counterparts to Italian and European funds, increasing the overall impact. Link 2007 has drawn up a concrete proposal in this regard, which is available to the executive.

The importance of diasporas

In addition to civil society organisations, a key role can also be played by an almost always neglected reality: the diasporas. These can act as a bridge, facilitating the very development of projects from the privileged position of those who know both realities: Italy and the countries of origin. Link 2007 has repeatedly underlined the importance of communities of foreign origin residing in Italy not only for the management of the migration phenomenon, but also to develop projects that are not dropped from above. This is a potentially vast basin: the foreign population resident in our country at the beginning of 2023 reached 5.50 million people: 8.6% of the total (ISTAT data 2022), 700 thousand more than ten years before. Their appropriate involvement can make the difference for the success of the Mattei Plan.

Equal partnerships

Much will also depend on the weight that individual policy areas will have in the overall scheme. The five pillars of the Plan are education, agriculture, health, energy and water. A very broad scope, with only sketchy contents that must be made concrete as soon as possible. Good results can certainly be achieved if truly equal partnerships are pursued, thus opening a new phase in Africa-Italy and Africa-Europe relations. This is why we are at the disposal of the executive and the steering committee of the Mattei Plan to contribute our experience in finding effective solutions, identifying together resources, appropriate objectives, and procedures that are as streamlined as possible. In short, there is still much to be done, but we are only at the beginning.

Roberto Ridolfi, President LINK 2007

The article was published here