Strategic observation

News Analysis: Italy's Africa strategy focuses on migration: analysts

2018-09-06 05:07:09 (Beijing Time)         English.news.cn

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by Eric J. Lyman

ROME, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- Italy, until recently among the European states pushing hardest for a comprehensive development policy in Africa, can now describe its strategy for the second largest continent with one word "migration", according to some analysts.

The new Italian government under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, installed June 1, has taken a strict stance against allowing asylum seekers to land on Italian shores. Part of that strategy involves funneling money and ships to the Libyan Coast Guard in an effort to keep would-be migrants on African shores.

"Right now, from the standpoint of Italy, look south to Africa and all you see is Libya," Andrea Dessi, a researcher with the Instituto Affari Internazionale (Institute for Foreign Affairs), told Xinhua. "Libya is the broken piece of the puzzle."

In recent years, Paolo Gentiloni, who was Italy's prime minister for the two years ending when the Conte government took power in June, and minister for foreign affairs from 2014 to 2016, was among the European leaders pushing hardest for development aid in Africa.

In 2016, then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi became the first sitting Italian head of government in more than 70 years to visit Africa saying the relationship between Europe and the continent to its south represented "an enormous opportunity for both sides."

"The idea at the time was to help the poorest Africans in their house so they didn't want to come to our house," Dessi said.

It is questionable how effective those efforts were. But even in that context, Italy's new government represents a dramatic departure from previous governments, analysts say.

"The migrant issue is like a loud noise that drowns out every other sound," Alfonso Giordano, a professor of political geography at Rome's LUISS University, said in an interview. "Ask Matteo Salvini (Italy's minister of the interior) and he will say migration is the only priority for Italy in Africa."

That does not mean Italian companies don't continue to be active in Africa. The country maintains more than a dozen active chambers of commerce on the continent.

But government investment and attention are another matter: Dessi said that while the government has deployed some Italian troops in Niger and has increased its funding for the United Nations Trust Fund for Africa, even those moves are related to slowing migration. Niger, he said, is emerging as a "key choke point" for migrants traveling from other parts of the continent en route to Libya.

"There was a time when Italian leaders would talk about humanitarian aid, development projects, even of a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa," Dessi said, referring to the United States-funded program in the late 1940s and early 1950s to help rebuild Europe after World War II. "That kind of discussion is long gone now. Everything is about border security, terrorism, and migration now."