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“We are not beggars” – AU Commission chair’s response to Italy’s €5.5bn development plan for Africa

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The chair of the African Union Commission has said “we are not beggars” as the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, outlined a plan aimed at helping African countries to prosper in return for curbing illegal immigration.

Speaking at the much anticipated Italy-Africa summit in Rome, Moussa Faki welcomed Italy’s overtures for a mutually beneficial strengthening of relations with the African continent, but said: “We cannot be satisfied with mere promises that can’t be kept.”

Faki said a “paradigm shift” was required to usher in “a new model of partnership” and pave the way “towards a more just and coherent world”. He said: “Africa does not want to reach out. We are not beggars.”

Leaders and representatives from 45 African nations, including the presidents of Tunisia, Senegal, Kenya, the Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Somalia, were in the Italian capital to hear the details of Meloni’s so-called “Mattei plan”, a flagship policy inspired by Enrico Mattei, the founder of the oil company Eni who in the 1950s pushed for Italy to support African countries to develop their natural resources and improve their economies.

The summit, hosted in the prestigious Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian senate, was also attended by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Council president, Charles Michel, and Roberta Metsola, the head of the EU parliament.

Opening the event, Meloni said the project would have an initial funding of more than €5.5bn (£4.7bn) for investments in a variety of sectors, including energy, education, health and infrastructure.

“We want to write a new chapter in the history of our cooperation,” Meloni said. “There has been biased storytelling in the past, saying Africa is a poor continent. This is not true … it boasts natural resources and a young population.”

Meloni said the project would be based on “a cooperation among equals” and “far from any predatory imposition or charitable stance towards Africa”.

The Italian prime minister announced her Africa plan soon after her far-right government took office in October 2022, with the main goal of transforming Italy into an energy hub as Europe was weaning itself off Russian gas.

A priority for Meloni in exchange for helping African economies to prosper is stemming the flow of migrants from Africa, an election pledge she has so far failed to fulfil.

Meloni has long campaigned for people migrating from Africa “to be helped at home”. Fighting human trafficking would be central to the plan, she said, adding that people had the right “not to be forced to migrate … for a better life which is difficult to find in Europe”

“Mass immigration will never be stopped. Human traffickers will never be defeated if we do not address the many causes that push a person to leave their home,” she told the summit.

Meloni is striving to position Italy at the forefront of boosting European clout on the African continent, and said the presence of EU leaders at the summit confirmed Europe’s support for her country’s initiative.

Von der Leyen said: “This is a moment of intense and renewed cooperation between Africa and Europe because not only our destinies are aligned, but also interests are aligned more than ever before.”

Metsola said 12 of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. “When Africa prospers, Europe prospers and the world will prosper too,” she said.

Raffaele Marchetti, professor of international relations at Luiss University in Rome, said Meloni was exploiting the weakened positions of France and Germany in Africa to increase Italy’s influence.

“There is an important window of opportunity for Italy,” he said. “Italy has a historical advantage too – yes, it was a colonial power but in a minor and different way to others, and therefore it is seen as a country capable of creating non-predatory relationships.”

Riccardo Magi, the president of the small leftwing party Più Europa, said “great confusion still reigned” over how the objectives of the plan would be executed.

He was also sceptical about Von der Leyen’s presence at the summit. Magi said: “She has been there [with Meloni] on other occasions, for example for the EU’s migration deal with Tunisia last summer, which completely failed, so her presence is no longer a guarantee of reliability, and unfortunately, not even credibility.”

Anna Bono, a professor of African history at the University of Torino, said the Mattei plan ought to be embraced

She said: “But I think the most delicate thing, beyond the words pronounced, will be in succeeding in finding African leaders who truly want their countries to develop. By that, I mean to stop conceiving their countries, as many African leaders do, as their property to be exploited.”

In a separate development on Monday, Albania’s constitutional court ruled in favour of a controversial deal signed with Italy to host two holding centres for people rescued in Italian waters.

The agreement, which Meloni announced in November, would initially result in the non-EU member state hosting about 3,000 people but ultimately processing up to 36,000 a year.

Under the deal, which has been criticised by human rights groups but tacitly endorsed by the EU, those allocated to Albania would be people rescued by Italian boats. Minors, pregnant women and vulnerable individuals would be taken to Italy.

Albania’s constitutional court threw a spanner in the works in December when it blocked the ratification of the legislation by lawmakers, with the chief judge, Olta Zaçaj, announcing a hearing for Thursday to determine whether the agreement violates Albania’s constitution.

Critics say the agreement, which many have compared to the UK’s deal with Rwanda, presents several legal difficulties. For Italy to exercise its jurisdiction in Albania, they suggest, Tirana would effectively have to cede a portion of its territory to Rome.

On Monday, however, Albania’s top court said in a statement: “The agreement does not harm Albania’s territorial integrity.”

The ruling by the court comes just days after Italian MPs voted in favour of the agreement – with the lower chamber of parliament backing the protocol by 155 votes to 115, along with two abstentions.

The text now goes to the senate, where it is also expected to be approved.

source by graphic news

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