Italy to expand influence in Africa

The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, is set to unveil her ambitious influence vision for Italy in Africa, aiming to position her country at the forefront of European collaboration on the continent in exchange for controlling illegal migration. Known as the Mattei plan, named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of Eni oil company, the proposal will be presented in Rome, attended by leaders from Africa and Europe, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Meloni introduced her Africa plan shortly after her far-right government assumed office in October 2022, with the primary objective of transforming Italy into an energy hub amid Europe’s shift away from Russian gas. Although specific details about the plan’s broader objectives are limited, a draft decree approved in November outlines Italy’s envisioned “non-predatory” assistance to African countries in areas such as education, health, exports, and infrastructure.

A key focus for Meloni, in return for supporting the economic development of African nations, is to curb the influx of migrants from Africa—a campaign promise she has yet to fulfill. Emphasizing the importance of the initiative, Meloni has assigned her office to execute the plan and opted to host the summit in the Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian senate, a move criticized by opposition parties who accused her of “seizing” the building.

Despite criticism, supporters argue that holding such a significant event in the historic senate building adds prestige to the occasion without disrupting the senators’ work. Lucio Malan, the senate’s chief whip, highlighted the strategic importance of the African continent for Italy, aiming to enhance influence in a region where other countries, including Russia and Turkey, have already made substantial inroads.

The summit will be attended by leaders from 23 African nations and organizations, including Moussa Faki, the president of the African Union Commission. Giorgia Meloni was previously fooled into a prank call orchestrated by two Russian comedians in November, during which she believed she was speaking to Faki.

Francesco Galietti, founder of Policy Sonar, a political consultancy in Rome, noted that Meloni has been working on organizing this summit for an extended period, presenting it as a grand strategy that has garnered attention. However, specific details such as participant involvement, financial investments, and the nature of the initiative, whether diplomatic or involving more concrete measures, remain unclear.

Meloni’s persistent efforts to orchestrate this summit as a grand strategy have drawn considerable attention, but lingering uncertainties surround crucial aspects such as the extent of participant involvement, financial commitments, and whether the initiative will primarily rely on diplomatic measures or involve more concrete actions.

The summit, hosted in the historic Palazzo Madama, reflects Meloni’s dedication to establishing Italy as a key player in African affairs. Critics argue that her focus on stemming migration may overshadow the broader potential for positive collaboration between Italy and African nations. However, supporters contend that the initiative’s multi-faceted approach, encompassing education, health, exports, and infrastructure, signifies a commitment to fostering sustainable development across the continent.

The Mattei plan, named after the visionary Enrico Mattei, underscores Italy’s desire to position itself as an energy hub in the changing European landscape, particularly in light of reduced reliance on Russian gas. This strategic pivot aligns with Meloni’s broader vision for Italy’s role on the international stage, emphasizing cooperation and influence in regions where other global players have already made significant strides.

The inclusion of leaders from 23 African nations and bodies, including the president of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, highlights the scope and potential impact of Meloni’s Africa plan. The inadvertent prank call incident in November, where Meloni believed she was conversing with Faki, added a layer of intrigue and humor to the upcoming summit.

As the event unfolds, attention will likely shift to the specifics of the Mattei plan, including the allocation of resources, the nature of collaborative projects, and the potential for long-term partnerships. Italy’s unique approach, described as “non-predatory,” suggests a departure from traditional exploitation, emphasizing mutual benefit and sustainable development.

In the complex landscape of international relations, Meloni’s endeavor to navigate the delicate balance between addressing domestic concerns, such as migration, and fostering meaningful influence with African nations presents both challenges and opportunities. The success of the Mattei plan will ultimately be measured by its ability to bring about positive change in Africa while solidifying Italy’s position as a proactive and responsible global actor.

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