Geographies in Depth

A $6 billion investment in Africa’s future and other key outcomes from the Italy-Africa summit

Italy hosts the Italy-Africa summit in Rome, Italy.

Italy’s Prime Minister poses with European and African leaders at the summit. Image: Reuters/Remo Casilli

Simon Torkington
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European Union

  • The Italian Prime Minister says she wants to reset Europe’s relationship with Africa.
  • Giorgia Meloni wants to position Italy as a distribution hub for African energy.
  • The Forum’s Centre for New Economy and Society supports African development.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has set out her plan for a new era of partnership with African nations.

At a January 2024 summit in Rome, attended by more than 20 African leaders and European Union representatives, Meloni detailed plans for a $5.95 billion investment focusing on energy cooperation as a key area of economic development.

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As part of the plan, Meloni wants to establish a hub to distribute African energy, gas in particular, to the rest of Europe. Gas supplies to Europe have been a major concern ever since Russia’s war against Ukraine threatened the once-abundant flow of gas from the east.

Energy resources including oil, gas and coal make up more than 30% of Africa’s total exports, according to analysis of data from the United Nations by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Africa: destination of fuel export (2021)
Europe is the destination for around 40% of Africa’s energy exports. Image: Mo Ibrahim Foundation/UNCTAD

As the chart above shows, around 40% of Africa’s current energy exports go to Europe. Meloni’s plan for a European hub for African energy will face competition from energy-hungry Asian countries including China and India. In total, Asia currently imports 43.4% of Africa’s energy exports.

To support her plan, Meloni said her government would look for help from the private sector and international bodies such as the European Union, according to a Reuters report. She also intends to seek the support of the private sector to provide financing for development projects.


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A partnership beyond energy resources

The Italian proposal is built upon five policy areas. Beyond energy cooperation, the focus falls on education and training, agriculture, health and water.

According to Reuters, Meloni cited a range of pilot projects as evidence that Italy can make a positive difference in Africa. These include the redevelopment of schools in Tunisia, supporting farmers in Egypt and projects to improve the water network in the Congo Republic.

Can investment in Africa reduce unofficial migration?

One of Giorgia Meloni’s key outcomes from the plan is a fall in unofficial migration. Meloni came to power in Italy in 2022 on the back of an anti-immigration election campaign. She says the new Italy-Africa plan aims to foster prosperity on the African continent as a way to remove one of the root causes of irregular migration to Europe.

In recent years, Italy has struggled to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving from Africa, many of whom cross the Mediterranean and land on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Institute of Migration says almost 30,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

A mixed reception from African leaders

African leaders attending the summit expressed both scepticism and optimism, as details of the Italy-Africa plan were unveiled.

Kenyan President William Ruto, welcomed what he said was a good start to reframing relations. "Every journey begins with one simple step. And I think that the most important step has been made, that we are recalibrating our relationship with Italy," Ruto said.

Italy's Meloni pledges new partnership with Africa, funds limited
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni meets with President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa as Italy hosts the Italy-Africa summit in Rome. Image: Reuters/Remo Casilli

The head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat was forthright in his view that Italy, and other European countries must ensure that they deliver on their commitments. "We are not beggars, our ambition is much higher, we want a paradigm shift for a new model of partnership that can pave the way towards a fairer and more coherent world," he told Meloni.

Despite the scepticism of some of his peers, Ruto underlined what he sees as a fundamental shift in Africa’s place on the global stage, telling the summit: "The meeting encapsulated a new thinking not just in Italy, but in Europe and globally, about the place of Africa as a continent."

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