How would you evaluate the Italian involvement and presence in Africa? Are the Italian business interests influencing its presence in the continent?
Italy is surely a significant partner in Africa and its own history should make it identify with the needs of this continent. Italy has always been an important contributor to the promotion of peace, stability and development of the continent by being very supportive of regional economic cooperation and continental integration processes which had given birth to the African Union and the African Economic Community. As a member of the EU, Italy is a credible interlocutor and thanks to that it is an influential partner for many African countries. An evolution of its involvement could be seen over the last years due especially to the economic and financial challenges Italy is facing like many other Western countries. Despite this, I reckon that it is still able to cooperate with many African countries and actively engage in various productive sectors of their economies.
Regarding the second question, there exists an intrinsic link between business interests and politics as they are mutually exclusive. In fact, many other countries which are making their presence in Africa in the last decade such as China, India or South Korea do often link these two aspects. I would have been surprised if it was not the case for Italy. However, it should be remembered that Italy maintains good relations with several countries in Africa in different sectors ranging from agriculture to energy, from infrastructure to socio-cultural development. I would expect that Italy, as a long-standing partner for Africa, will not concentrate only on its traditional areas of interest but also engage in new areas where it can lend its know-how, financial assistance and investments. Important contributions can be made, for instance, in the health and education sectors as well as the promotion of stability in post-conflict situations.
So far, Italy has backed the French-led intervention in Mali and agreed to send forces in a EU training mission. Should it do more? What role should it assume in this issue?
Italy is an important ally country in the Mali crisis and its offer of logistic support to the French-led military mission has been appreciated. Nevertheless, while France had been fundamental to stop and wipe out the terrorists, its role should now limit to preparing the ground for the African-led forces which are now being deployed in Mali to step-in and take the lead. A recent African Union summit concluded that the continental organization will partly contribute to the budget of the peace-keeping operations in Mali. This happened to be the first time that African countries agreed to finance support operations. An international donor pledging conference in Kuwait followed this decision in order to provide to cover the remaining cost of the operation. Italy and other EU countries have been quite supportive in the early phases of the conflict and I expect them to keep doing so also on the long term. In particular, they should help in the post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country, encouraging the respect for human rights and promoting the return to constitutional authority in Mali. In this regard, it should be remembered that the role that Italy is playing in this region is reinforced by the effective and respected job that former Prime Minister and now UN Special Envoy for the Sahel Romano Prodi is playing in the continent .
Should Italy pay more attention to sub-saharan Africa and which fields of cooperation should be prioritised?
Italy, as an active player in Africa, should encourage other EU members to play a more dynamic role in the continental integration and development as well as contributing to conflict prevention, management and resolution processes in collaboration with African Union and the Regional Economic Communities. Both multilateral and bilateral relations should be promoted in subsaharian Africa in order to foster a more meaningful cooperation and partnership. This approach will no doubt strengthen continental peace and stability, essential elements to promote a sustainable development. In this regard, Italy is known to be supportive of the activities of the African Union in areas of post-conflict reconstruction such as Somalia thanks to its present capacity as the Chair of IGAD’s Partners Forum for Somalia.
* Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya is Regional Director at the Addis Ababa Office of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)