Does Africa have something to gain from an energy partnership with Italy?
1 February 2024
Held in Rome on the 28th and 29th of January, the Italy-Africa Summit brings together representatives from more than 25 African countries.
Sarah Touron is a project consultant at Concerto, specialising in political issues in Africa and the Middle East. Contact Sarah at email@example.com for more information on the subject, or to find out more about how Concerto can help you.QUICK INSIGHTSHeld in Rome on the 28th and 29th of January, the Italy-Africa Summit brings together representatives from more than 25 African countries. The aim? To implement a cooperation programme focusing on energy and migration issues and to give new impetus to Italian-African relations. With the Russia-Ukraine war reshaping the global energy map, Italy has everything to win from an energy partnership with Africa. The question is whether the potential benefits for the African continent are reciprocal.
The first edition of the Italy-Africa Summit could reshape the global energy landscape by positioning Italy at the centre of a new strategic axis for African energy resources.
Italy-Africa collaboration has been strengthened over the last decade, reflecting the long-term strategic cooperation.
While this new energy landscape gives the continent more room to negotiate and a stronger position, traditional patterns of power seem to persist.
Making Italy an energy hub between Europe and Africa
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had a radical impact on the energy system, highlighting Europe's heavy dependence on Russian gas. By organising the first Italy-Africa Summit, Giorgia Meloni, head of the Italian government, has no hidden agenda. Her ambition? Make Italy an energy corridor between Europe and Africa, through which African energy resources can be channelled. That is the purpose of the Mattei Plan, a programme of investment and partnerships based on strategic intervention in Africa to secure the European Union's energy supply, whose €5.5 billion financing is based on loans from the Italian Climate Fund and the Development Cooperation Fund. While part of this budget relates to migration, another part of the Mattei Plan is designed to transform Italy's energy industry.
Closer cooperation over the last decade
The Italian Prime Minister expressed her willingness to implement a new, non-predatory approach to Africa, and to work together on an equal footing without any battlefield of influence. Indeed, political and economic dialogue with Africa has been steadily strengthened in recent years: three new embassies have been opened since 2017 (Guinea, Niger, Burkina Faso), financial support has been allocated to the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat, a centre for sustainable development in Africa was inaugurated in 2019, and a permanent representation to the African Union was set up in 2017. Italy, long outstripped by the other powers, is now imposing its own strategy on the continent, which has now found its focus: energy.
A new European energy mandate with opportunities for Africa?
Italy is undoubtedly marking a turning point in energy diplomacy with this first edition of the Italy-Africa Summit. While Giorgia Meloni is keen to present Africa as a land of opportunity which Europe needs, are the benefits of collaboration really mutual? This is what Kenyan journalist and CNN international correspondent Larry Madowo highlighted on his X account (formerly Twitter), claiming that Italy's strategy in Africa was ultimately no different from those of other world powers. In his words, "everyone has a plan for Africa, except Africa itself". So does this partnership mark a turning point, or does it represent continuity? It is undeniably a way for Africa to define its own priorities, independently of European energy demand. It gives Africa greater negotiating leeway when facing Europe in search of fruitful partnerships. On the surface, this only strengthens Africa's position. Despite this, although Italy expressly insists on the pioneering aspect of its foreign policy, in substance it is not all that innovative. The world powers have the upper hand. Such is the case of the United Arab Emirates, which has already announced a budget of 4.5 billion dollars for clean energy in Africa at the Nairobi Summit to promote Africa's energy potential.Italy has much more to gain from this partnership, as it is extremely dependent on imports (82%). Eurostat data for 2021 reveals that the European Union as a whole is 55.5% dependent on imports. Europe is at a dead end. A sustainable energy supply must be guaranteed. While the energy crisis is forcing European powers to seek compromises, Italy is no visionary in this regard. Germany, which is also heavily dependent on Russian gas, had already identified Africa as a solution to European energy independence. In November 2023, it signed two agreements with Nigeria, for 500 million dollars on renewable energies and gas exports. Nevertheless, the organisation of a Summit remains a first and transcends European energy ambitions, whose initiatives have not reached such a level, including Germany.