Giorgia Meloni: Italy's Africa Initiative Takes Center Stage at G7 Summit
Giorgia Meloni: Italy's Africa Initiative Takes Center Stage at G7 Summit
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Bari, Italy: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is set to elevate Africa as a top priority at this year's Group of Seven (G7) leaders' meeting, positioning Italy as a crucial energy hub linking Europe with the continent. However, experts caution that the vision's feasibility hinges on clear economic resources.

Expected to convene for a three-day forum starting Thursday in Puglia, a dozen heads of state will focus on global politics, with Africa, climate change, and development taking precedence in the initial G7 sessions.

In a sign of Meloni's outreach ambitions, a significant number of guests from the Global South have been invited to the forum this year. Despite the expected domination of talks by issues such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Israel's Gaza conflict, and increasing competition with China, Meloni intends to highlight her foreign policy centerpiece, the Mattei Plan.

The plan symbolizes her strategy to project influence in Africa, transforming Italy into a conduit for distributing gas from Africa and the Mediterranean to Europe. It also aims to foster economic growth to curb mass migration from Africa.

However, critics argue that Meloni's objectives focus more on investment than development. Her approach leans heavily on financial institutions, banks, and private and state-owned companies, with less emphasis on involving NGOs and humanitarian organizations.

At the G7 summit, Meloni is expected to seek partnerships, funding, and legitimacy. Her timing is propitious, presiding over the summit as Europe's rising star following her victory in the recent European Parliament elections.

Maddalena Procopio, a senior policy fellow in the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, explained, "Meloni wants to present Italy as the new European face in Africa. Emphasizing the continent at the G7 is a strategic move because of the unprecedented global interest."

Africa hosts about 30% of the world's mineral reserves critical to renewable technologies like solar and electric vehicles and holds 8% of the world's natural gas, according to the UN. These resources are crucial as Western nations seek alternatives to Russian gas following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Italy aims to step in while competitor France faces setbacks. Unlike France, Italy has a lighter colonial history and intends to strike a tone that avoids paternalism or imposition with African partners. Anti-French and anti-American sentiments have been brewing in Francophone Africa, where French troops have withdrawn from several countries.

Amid growing competition between the Western bloc and the China-Russia alliance, the EU and US are expected to watch Meloni's plan closely, albeit with skepticism about its viability.

Earlier this year at an Italy-Africa summit, Meloni outlined five areas of investment: energy, agriculture, water, health, and education, along with a few pilot projects. Observers, however, found the proposals vague, with many projects being rebranded from existing initiatives.

Bernardo Venturi, head of research and policy at the Agency for Peacebuilding NGO, remarked, "It was vague, and most of the projects presented were rebranding of some already up and running." He noted that no additional resources were allocated for the plan, except for 5 billion euros ($5.38bn) diverted from other budgets, and that most African partners were not consulted.

Venturi also criticized the setup of a working group, where the foreign ministry and NGOs with extensive experience on the ground had marginal roles. "Italy also lacks the economic resources and has a marginal institutional presence across the continent," he added.

Rights groups have also lambasted the plan, accusing Meloni's government of masking anti-immigration policies as an energy investment strategy. Meloni's election campaign prominently featured promises to address migration, and human rights groups contend her administration is obstructing the work of search and rescue organizations in the Mediterranean by restricting refugees' rights to reach Italian shores.

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