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President Meloni’s opening address at the Italia-Africa Summit

Monday, 29 January 2024

Distinguished Presidents, Prime Ministers, Authorities, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

it is a great honour for me to welcome you to Rome today, in the Chamber of the Italian Senate, and I wish to thank President La Russa as well as the Senate Presidency Council and group leaders’ conference for accepting the Government’s request to allow this important event to be held here. 

This Chamber is one of the most important places in our history. The Senate, together with the Chamber of Deputies, is a pillar of Italian democracy, and choosing to host this Summit here underlines the importance we attribute to today’s working sessions.
This is, in fact, the first time that the Italy-Africa Conference is being held as a Summit with the participation of Heads of State and Government, having been held only at ministerial level in the past. This choice also reiterates the key importance Italy attributes to its relations with African countries.

Please allow me to thank the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who stressed the strategic importance of dialogue and cooperation between Italy and Africa during his speech at the Quirinale Palace yesterday. I also wish to thank and greet the leaders of the European institutions, who accepted our invitation and are here today. Your presence, Ursula, Charles, Roberta, gives a very important signal, confirming Europe’s support for our commitment. Please allow me to extend a special greeting to the African Union, which is represented by its current Chairperson, Azali Assoumani, and by the Chairperson of the Commission, Moussa Faki, and which has joined the G20 this year – a choice that Italy was among the very first nations to support.

Lastly, I wish to thank the United Nations, represented by the Deputy Secretary-General, and the leaders of the international organisations, financial institutions and multilateral development banks present.

This Summit is the first international event to be held in Italy since the beginning of its G7 Presidency, and this is the result of an extremely precise foreign policy choice, leading to Africa being given a place of honour on the agenda of our Group of Seven Presidency.

We have made this choice because the medium and long-term goal we have set ourselves is to demonstrate our awareness of how interconnected the destinies of our two continents, Europe and Africa, are. And we believe it is possible to imagine and write a new page in the history of our relations.

Cooperation as equals, far from any predatory temptations, but also from that ‘charity-like’ approach to Africa which is so ill-suited to its extraordinary development potential. This new approach, for which our nation wants to be the standard-bearer, is also reflected in the name of this Summit: ‘Italia-Africa. A bridge for common growth’, because this is Italy’s natural vocation: a bridge between Africa and Europe. As Italians, we have the advantage of being able to build that bridge not starting from scratch, but rather based on the solid foundations that the great Italian Enrico Mattei, founder of ENI, had the foresight to envisage all those years ago.

Mattei was fond of saying that “ingenuity is seeing possibilities where others see none”. Where others saw difficulties, Mattei saw opportunities. He taught us that it was possible to combine Italy’s need to make its growth sustainable with the need of partner nations to experience a time of freedom, development and progress. Today, we want to build on that intuition and write a new page of this story, together.   

Certain distorted narratives need to be dismantled first, like the one of Africa allegedly being a poor continent, because that is not the case. Africa is not a poor continent at all: it has 30% of the world’s mineral resources and 60% of its arable land. 60% of its population are under the age of 25, making it the world’s youngest continent, and this also means it has enormous potential in terms of human capital. However, it is also an immense continent encompassing thousands of different characteristics, which therefore also entail very different needs.

Italy, Europe, and dare I say the whole world, cannot think about the future without taking Africa into due consideration. Our future inevitably also depends on the future of the African continent.

Being aware of this, we want to do our part, which is why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of measures able to help the continent to grow and prosper, building on its immense resources. 

All this forms the backbone of the Italian strategic project that we have named the ‘Mattei Plan for Africa’. A concrete plan of strategic measures, focusing on a few, key, medium and long-term priorities, because we also need to say enough is enough to the logic of spending resources in myriads of micro measures that do not produce significant results.

We have chosen five major priorities for action: education and training; health; agriculture; water; and, energy. We have chosen a number of nations to begin with, some in Sub-Saharan Africa and some in North Africa, with the aim of gradually extending this initiative following an incremental logic.

This Plan, however, was not designed to be a ‘closed box’, to be imposed from above as, we have to say, has sometimes been done in the past, because a new method is also needed. The Plan is therefore designed to be a policy platform, open to sharing and cooperation with African nations, during both the definition and the implementation of the individual projects.

Sharing is one of the key principles of the Mattei Plan and, in this regard, the work of this Summit will play a decisive role in enriching the process. This is why we have structured today’s programme across five themed working sessions that correspond to the main focus areas of our initiative.

What pilot projects are we working on? I will just mention a few for each of the various action areas, as it would be impossible to describe them one by one.

I shall start with the ‘education and training’ pillar, which plays a decisive role because, in order to generate wealth, investments need to create jobs, and those jobs require adequate education and adequate training. Skills and expertise are needed to build bridges, railways, photovoltaic systems, roads, schools, hospitals, and training is needed to develop those skills and expertise. I am thinking of Morocco, for example, where we aim to build a large centre of excellence for vocational training in the field of renewable energy.

We are also planning to strengthen links between the Italian school system and those of African nations. I am thinking of the upgrading of school infrastructure, as we will already be doing in Tunisia in 2024, as well as training and refresher courses for teachers, and student and teacher exchanges between our nations. 

The Mattei Plan will also dedicate a specific section to health. In this regard, the first nation we want to address is Côte d’Ivoire, where our objective is to improve accessibility and the quality of primary services, paying particular attention to children, their mothers and the most vulnerable people.

Agriculture will be another action area because, if it is true that Africa has 60% of the world’s arable land and that land is unfortunately often not used, then we must ensure that technology can contribute to making that land workable, allowing it to bear fruit. I would also like to add that we are not only working on ‘food security’ but on ‘food safety’ too. In other words, the challenge we want to meet is not only about guaranteeing food for all, but guaranteeing quality food for all. Research plays a crucial role in this but, as I have already said, I do not believe that research should be used to produce food in laboratories and perhaps move towards a world in which the rich can eat natural food and the poor can only afford synthetic food, with unpredictable effects on health. This is not the world we want to build.

The world we want is a world in which the age-old bond between people and the land is maintained, with research helping to optimise that bond, ensuring increasingly resilient crops and increasingly modern growing techniques, able to improve the quality and quantity of production.

We must indeed also seize the opportunities that technology offers us in terms of earth observation and data collection, to provide as much useful information as possible on deforestation trends, water wastage and crop health. In this regard, we intend to launch a satellite monitoring project for agriculture in Algeria, for example, while in Mozambique we are working to build an agri-food centre to promote the excellence of local products and their exports. 

In Egypt, we plan to support the production of wheat, soya, corn and sunflowers in an area 200km from Alexandria, investing in machinery, seeds, technology and new cultivation methods, in addition of course to supporting vocational training.

However, I am also thinking of the project already launched in Tunisia, where we are working to upgrade purification stations for non-conventional water, in order to irrigate an area of 8,000 hectares and create a training centre dedicated to the agri-food sector.

We also want to offer our contribution to improve the management of and access to water, which is an increasingly scarce resource and this scarcity is one of the main driving factors of food insecurity, conflict and migration. In this regard, I would like to briefly mention another two pilot projects: the first is in the Republic of the Congo, where we intend to work on the construction of wells and water distribution networks powered exclusively by renewable energy, mainly for agricultural purposes; the second is in Ethiopia, where we want to launch environmental rehabilitation work in a number of areas and implement water purification measures, also by providing training and technical support to local universities.

And now to the last, but certainly not the least important, pillar of the Mattei Plan: the climate-energy nexus and related infrastructure.

We have always been convinced that Italy has what it takes to become the natural energy supply hub for the whole of Europe. We can achieve this goal if we use energy as a key to development for all.

Italy’s goal is to help African nations that are interested in producing enough energy to meet their own needs and then exporting the excess to Europe, combining two needs: Africa’s need to develop this production and generate wealth, and Europe’s need to ensure new energy supply routes.

Among the initiatives in this area, I would like to mention the one in Kenya dedicated to developing the biofuels supply chain, which aims to involve up to around 400,000 farmers by 2027.

However, this exchange can clearly only work if there is also connection infrastructure between the two continents, and we have also been working on this for some time, above all together with the European Union. I am thinking, for example, of the ELMED electricity interconnection between Italy and Tunisia, or the new H2 South Corridor to transport hydrogen from North Africa to central Europe, passing through Italy.

As you can see, I wanted to talk about concrete projects and initiatives that can have a significant and immediate impact in the nations where they are implemented, and that can be extended not just in terms of their size but also in terms of the sectors in which they are deployed. I intend to personally follow the implementation and development of these projects; the people in charge on our side are ready to immediately begin defining the operational aspects of those projects that are not yet underway. However, this is clearly only the launch of the plan, and we aim to replicate successful models in all African countries that are interested. 

Such an ambitious Plan must obviously have the full involvement of Italy’s entire economic system, starting with development cooperation and the private sector, which is crucial that we involve in our strategy, given that it boasts such a huge wealth of know-how, technology and innovative solutions. 

We want to use this Plan of measures to make our contribution to unleashing Africa’s potential, also in order to ensure that the young generations have a right that has so far been denied them, because here in Europe we have often talked about the right to emigrate, but we have barely ever spoken about how to guarantee the right not to be forced to emigrate, and not to have to cut your roots in search of a better life, which is increasingly difficult to achieve in Europe.

Illegal mass immigration will never be stopped, human traffickers will never be defeated, unless the root causes that drive people to leave their homes are addressed. This is precisely what we intend to do, on the one hand by declaring war on the ‘slave traders’ of the third millennium and, on the other, by offering African populations an alternative of opportunities, work, training and legal migration paths.

The Mattei Plan also addresses this need and can count on an initial budget of more than EUR 5.5 billion in loans, grants and guarantees, with approximately EUR 3 billion being allocated from the Italian Climate Fund, and around EUR 2.5 billion coming from development cooperation resources. Of course, this is not enough, which is why we want to involve international financial institutions, multilateral development banks, the European Union and other donor countries, who have already stated their readiness to support joint projects. We also intend to create a new financial instrument by the end of this year, together with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, to facilitate private sector investments in Mattei Plan projects. 

In conclusion, the Africa we see is above all a continent that can and must amaze, but to do so it needs to be put to the test and must be able to compete on equal terms in the global context.

As has been said since ancient times, there is “always something new out of Africa”. So, my hope for each and every one of us is that something new really can come out of this Summit, something that nobody is expecting, even something that many would not have thought possible, because, as always, proving predictions wrong means writing your own page of history.

Thank you.

[Courtesy translation]