Roma, Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente 25/05/2006



(Rome - Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, 25 May 2006)

Mr President of IsIAO
Ms Honorary President,
Mr President of the Constitutional Court
Mr Vice President of the Senate
Ms Minister of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries
His Excellency the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Excellencies,
Esteemed representatives of the Government and public authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for your warm words of welcome. I have great pleasure in taking part in the celebration of Africa Day. It is a privilege for me to begin my international activities by meeting representatives of this great continent which was the cradle of humanity, the birthplace of age-old civilizations and the homeland of ancient cultures and states.

To the international community Africa presents both crucial challenges and major opportunities which directly concern Europe - and first and foremost Italy -because of its geographical proximity. Europe and Africa must rediscover their common roots, as my predecessor, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, said five years ago on the same occasion: "We have a historic task before us: firmly and durably linking Africa's future to Europe." The hardest challenges before us stem from rapid population growth; from major health and humanitarian emergencies; from wars and from the role of non-government groups in trafficking in natural resources, human beings, arms and drugs. I might also mention the challenges of migratory flows; of preventing entire territories turning into logistics bases for international terrorist organizations, particularly in places where militant fundamentalism and deep socio-economic problems come together with disastrous consequences. The opportunities are provided by Africa's huge economic potential, by its wealth of human and natural resources, by the existence of promising markets which still lie outside the circuits of the world economy, by the emerging African systems of collective security and by economic cooperation at regional and sub-regional level.

Any analysis of relations with Africa must begin with acknowledging our past mistakes. For a long time after the rivalry between East and West ended the African continent failed to get all the attention it merited from the international community. In the meantime, however, the survival of entire communities had been jeopardized. Destructive conflicts spread like cancer from one region to another. Corruption and inefficiency defeated all efforts to end the scourge of hunger. Major epidemics tore at the very fabric of society. Indiscriminate exploitation of precious, non-renewable resources such as water increased. Africa looked on as great trade flows passed it by. The results are unfortunately there for everyone to see. It would be superfluous to recall the number of victims of African wars, figures with which all of you here are familiar, or the heart-rending statistics on the silent slaughter wrought by extreme poverty and disease.

But even though Africa is the continent where achievement of the Millennium Goals appears most remote, its economy now looks more encouraging and, above all, Africa has for the past few years been back on the international agenda. A series of important meetings has, albeit with mixed results, kept the debate alive on Africa's three fundamental needs: development, security and democracy.

The way ahead is now clearer. Above all, African nations themselves must determine their path to development. Without respect for human and minority rights, without proper macroeconomic management and without a resolute campaign against corruption it will be hard for the continent to avoid decline and marginalization.

That conviction lies behind the creation of the new African Union and its institutions, testifying to the African people's determination to take their future into their own hands. The strength of their resolve to re-emerge is evident from the NEPAD, a proposed partnership with the West founded on a clear division of responsibilities: on the one hand the African countries' commitment to improving their own capacity for governance; on the other the industrialized countries' guarantee to provide greater and better assistance than ever before, to cancel countries' debts and to remove the tariff and non-tariff barriers keeping African products out of Western markets.

The obstacles standing in the way of Africa's development are formidable. They include high transport costs, limited markets, scarce agricultural productivity, low savings, inadequate technology, poor school-going rates - especially for girls - and endemic conflicts in some regions. Under such conditions it is hard for African countries to generate the resources required to initiate and maintain a process of sustainable development. External financing and technological assistance from the more developed countries are both a necessity and an unavoidable duty. Nor can we forget that medium and long-term goals - such as the development of an efficient agricultural sector, the implementation of infrastructures and the growth of the private sector - have to be reconciled with objectives dictated by immediate survival needs.

Partnership between Africa and the industrialized world based on reciprocal commitment is a much needed and far-sighted policy. The European Union enthusiastically supported the detailed proposals put forward by African delegates on the eve of the G8 Summit in Genoa in 2001 and, during last December's European Council, went on to adopt a strategy for Africa. Europe reiterates its desire to collaborate closely with pan-African institutions to ensure the maintenance of peace, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the promotion of economic and social progress. The adoption of that strategy was accompanied by a series of connected initiatives such as the decision to provide Africa with additional resources worth euro 23 billion by 2015 and the agreement to send a new military mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in response to a request from the United Nations. Europe's desire to build strong and lasting links with the African continent must be supported with determination. I am convinced that a key turning point could be the planned summit of Heads of State and Government of the European Union and the African Union. Such a meeting has been on the agenda for a long time but has been put off too often.

Italy intends to help bring this about, convinced as it is that the destinies of Africa and Europe are inseparably intertwined. We are working on behalf of Africa not only in the framework of the European Union but also in the G8 and in the United Nations and its agencies, first and foremost the Rome-based food and agriculture agencies. Italy is contributing to a number of bilateral and multilateral aid programmes and was among the countries which promoted a generous debt-cancellation policy that extended to the debts held by international financial institutions. Italy will continue to support Africa: by participating in peace initiatives; through economic assistance; by contributing to the fight against AIDS and the search for vaccines against major diseases; through technology transfer; through the work of our experts in fundamental environmental protection programmes; and lastly through the efforts of large numbers of Italian volunteers active in crisis areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa is a continent with a young population. It has great human and natural riches, including 10 percent of the world's known oil reserves. This represents a huge treasure which, if well administered on behalf of local populations, would help Africa escape the poverty trap. There are a number of encouraging signs. In the past year economic growth has climbed to five percent and direct foreign investments have increased by over 50 percent. On the political front, a positive note is that 14 elections were held in 2005 and that the same number is scheduled in 2006. Encouraging election results show that democratic institutions are taking root on the basis of such principles as the rule of law, the multi-party system, good governance and tolerance. The international community particularly welcomed the results in Liberia where, for the first time in Africa, a woman - Ms Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - was returned as Head of State.

These elements strengthen my conviction that Africa's political and economic weight is destined to grow. It is fitting that this should be reflected in the continent's increased participation in the decision-making machinery of the leading international organizations. We should not, however, swerve from the objectives we have set ourselves in order to create lasting stability and security. There are still too many ongoing conflicts. Still awaiting solutions are the crises in Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes. They, together with the armed truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the clashes between opposed factions in Somalia, show how difficult it is to make progress. Particularly worrying is the situation in Darfur due to continuing violence despite the signature of a peace agreement.

Those crises are neither the signs of an ineluctable destiny nor the result of any natural calamity. They are, alas, the work of man. But that is just what makes their solution possible. In this connection I should like to pay tribute to the efforts undertaken by the African Union and to the untiring mediation carried out by its representatives, as well as to the excellent results achieved by the AMIS mission in Darfur, which set the scene for the recent Abuja agreements.

I would also like to take this occasion to express my best wishes to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo for the success of his work. He holds the Presidency of the African Union this year and may be assured that he can count on Italy's close support in his mission.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The path we must follow is plain. It is my sincere hope that in future years, when we meet again to celebrate this occasion, we shall be able to comment positively on the progress made. Italy and Europe intend to remain by Africa's side as it moves ahead in order to create together the common space of civilization which was the dream of the great African poet and statesman, Léopold Senghor. Senghor, whose centenary falls this year, called it Eurafrica. His was a bold and far-sighted vision, but one with which we can all identify - the union of two worlds across the Mediterranean which must again, as in the past, become an open sea, a meeting ground for civilizations, cultures and traditions.