di maio ouane mali
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio with Prime Minister Moctar Ouane

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio arrived yesterday in Bamako, Mali, for a two-days mission aimed at strengthening cooperation on migration and security issues. The visit included several meetings with Malian authorities: yesterday, Di Maio met with Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, Minister of Foreign Affairs Zeini Moulaye and Minister of Malians Abroad and African Integration Alhamdou Ag Ilyene. This morning, he held meetings with Transition President Bah N’Daw and Vice President Assimi Goita.

As stated in a press release from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mali is a strategic partner for Italy on many important issues, such as the Libyan dossier, the management of migratory flows, and the stability of the Sahel, the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa that entails Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger. Over the last years, Italian foreign policy has focused more on the region, due to its relevance to migration routes that link central Africa to the Mediterranean. Italian dynamism in the Sahel is demonstrated by the recent signing of military cooperation agreements with Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as the opening of new embassies, included one in Mali.

di maio mali3
Luigi Di Maio with Minister of Malians Abroad and African Integration Alhamdou Ag Ilyene

Mali is the cornerstone of stability in the Sahel. This is why we decided to open an Embassy in Bamako. Our diplomatic presence will allow us to strengthen our bilateral relations in the political, economic, and security sectors. Italian companies can provide high added-value to key economic sectors such as, for example, that of renewable energysaid Mr. Di Maio to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

After all, as Bernardo Venturi writes, in just a few years the Sahel went from being “a little-known area of marginal value in international relations with Western Africa, to one of strategic importance” for European countries. The reason for this was the extreme fragility of the members of the so-called G5 Sahel, characterized by a difficult economic situation and plagued by the presence of groups of jihadist terrorists, that make the region extremely unsafe as well as permeable to illegal trafficking of various kinds.

italia mali
A Malian and an Italian soldier train togheter

The involvement of the international community in support of the Sahel countries has resulted in a strong military presence in the region. The European country most involved in the area is France, whose economic and political interests of former colonial power go side by side with the need to contrast violent extremism. The French military forces support the G5 Sahel alliance through Operation Barkhane, conducted by a 5,000-strong force. Beside it, other operations active in the area are UN-led operation MINUSMA and the European Union Training Mission (EUTM – MALI), aimed at training Malian armed forces. Italy takes part to both missions.

As proof of Italy’s willingness for a deeper involvement in the region, recently Rome agreed to take part to the newly formed Takuba Task Force. The Task Force, an offshoot of Operation Barkhane, was set up by Paris to contrast violent terrorist attacks in the Liptako-Gourma region, an area that comprises parts of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. As Italian Minister of Defence Lorenzo Guerini said: “our participation to the task force is part of a wider strategy of action on what we could consider the advanced southern front of European defence against instability and infiltration”.

The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali

Mr. Di Maio’s visit to Mali represents therefore a further step toward a stronger Italian presence in the Sahel, an objective Italy has been working on for a few years and that was reinforced by the willingness, expressed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in his inaugural address to Parliament, to focus more on the wider Mediterranean but within a solid European alliance framework.

Finally, Mr. Di Maio’s mission underlined how important Africa is for Italy. Italy’s interest for Africa is demonstrated by the special attention given to African issues by the Italian presidency of the G20. Next summer, Italy will host a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of G20 countries dedicated to Africa. Furthermore, the third edition of the Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference will be held in Rome next 7-8 October. The conference will focus on climate, in light of Italy’s role as co-chair of Cop26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference that will take place in Glasgow in November.