If we try to count how many Italian prime ministers really engaged with Africa, then one hand will be enough. What is missing is a systematic approach to national interests of Italy in terms of economics and politics. Africa also suffers from a lack of medium and long-term planning that could create a strategy of action on the continent.
Nevertheless, Italian trade indicators in Africa have increased significantly, in particular, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, which have done a great job in promoting certain sectors in infrastructure and light industry in the African market. At the state level, almost all measures were aimed only at supporting the oil and gas industry.
Sputnik: Last week, the Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emanuela del Re, visited East Africa. How would you characterize her visit?
Nicola Pedde: Italy is paying for its long absence in Africa, it is trying to return to the region, but is no longer a privileged player as it was in the 60-70s. Today, the country must compete with much more competitive players.
Sputnik: You have to fight for influence in Africa, what do you think about the rivalry between Italy and France in the region?
Nicola Pedde: The interests of France and Italy run counter, starting with the Libyan issue, which is a huge problem as France opposes our interests. France has taken a number of steps against Rome's stance on the matter. France and Italy share the same position on security in the Sahel, but we do not have a plan for common action on other issues, so there is a risk that our interests will clash and we will enter into direct rivalry in the North African region.
We have competitors that are more important than France, mainly I mean China, with which the competition is apparent in the field of infrastructure. In addition, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are constantly investing in the East African region, and this region is of greatest interest to Italy. There is also a competition for the Gulf zone, for example, Somalia, where the rivalry between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar is obvious. Each of these countries has its own specific goals. They know what they want to achieve in Africa in the next 20-30 years.
Italy, on the other hand, has not yet determined what exactly it wants to achieve, it is rather at the stage of assessing the situation, which leads to a loss of development opportunities. Thus, Italy risks becoming such an insignificant player in Africa that no one will even consider it as a rival.
Sputnik: Africa is the continent of the future which major powers are fighting over. Do you think that Italy will be able to improve relations with African countries in the future?
Nicola Pedde: I think that in Italy they've finally understood that relations with Africa will bring us economic and trade advantages. The big problem for Europe and countries such as Italy is that in Europe there's widespread belief that Africa is a poor and undeveloped continent. In fact, African countries all have completely different situations: although there are underdeveloped regions in which conflicts still rage, there are also regions with rapid economic growth and well-educated personnel, and you can invest in these regions.
This issue has to do with the prevailing perception in society about Africa; this really stands in the way of persuading Italian entrepreneurs to establish business with African countries. The Italian industrial system is still very provincial, therefore, in order for us to improve our economic relations with Africa, our entrepreneurs need government support, which can stimulate such initiatives.
Sputnik: Italy also needs to improve relations with African countries to solve the problem of the flow of migrants, what do you think?
Nicola Pedde: Of course, it is necessary to hold more bilateral meetings. Currently in Africa about 18 million Africans are trying to escape poverty, war and unemployment. Of these 18 million, only about 10% want to leave their continent and come to Europe. We must provide more opportunities for growth and employment in Africa, and then the flow of migrants will decrease. It is necessary to bring back the opportunity to invest in the African region and implement joint projects in Africa with such countries as Russia, China and the United States.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.