Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Man Is Known by the Company He Keeps

(Olmovich, Refugees in Malta)

[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - The Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met in Rome last weekend to celebrate the second anniversary of the Italian-Libyan Friendship Treaty (1). During the meeting, Colonel Gaddafi allegedly asked the European Union € 5 bn every year to stop illegal immigration from Africa (2).

According to the Friendship Treaty, indeed, Libya was granted the same amount in 20 years as a compensation for colonial occupation (1912-1942): Italy has thus promised to build  a 1,700 km highway on the Libyan coast (3). Two routes out three from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe going through Libya, Colonel Gaddafi has in exchange enforced a severe crack-down on immigration to Italy via the Libyan Sea.

As outlined in a report by Human Rights Watch, regularly “Italy intercepts African boat migrants and asylum seekers, fails to screen them for refugee status or other vulnerabilities, and forcibly returns them to Libya, where many are detained in inhuman and degrading conditions and abused” (4).

Moreover, Libya was granted a privileged access to Italian businesses. Along with several other interests, Libyan sovereign funds presently hold a 7% share in UniCredit, the Italy-based and pan-European banking Group, and a 1% share in ENI, the Italian oil and gas multinational corporation (5).

Given the world financial crisis, formerly worldwide banned Libyan petrodollars were a godsend for Italy, an industrial country traditionally lacking in private capitals and facing a staggering 115% debt/GDP ratio. All the more reason, Italian businesses are said to have been granted new contracts for about € 70 bn (6).

Is there an alternative? Instead of arming Libya against naked hordes of migrants (7), Italy and Europe should invest in local development. Microcredit, healthcare and education are actually able to seed wealth and democracy (8).


(1) Adding disgust to shame, the visit of the Libyan dictator rose particular concern on the Italian media because Colonel Gaddafi gave a lesson on Islam to 500 Italian young women who had been paid by a recruiting agency to attend the event (Associated Press, "Italian models praise Gadhafi",, August 30th 2010).

(2) Nicoletta Picchio, “Gheddafi: con le aziende italiane altre commesse nella difesa”,, August 31st 2010.

(3) Sergio Rizzo, "Ma gli investimenti in Libia sono ancora a corrente alternata",, August 30th 2010.

(4) Human Rights Watch, "Italy/Libya: Migrants Describe Forced Returns, Abuse",, September 21st 2009.

(5) Ettore Livini, "Un business da 40 miliardi per la Berlusconi-Gheddafi spa",, August 28th 2010.

(6) Vittorio Feltri, "Non si fanno affari con Gheddafi? Ma andate a Ramadan", il Giornale, August 29th 2010.

(7) Antonella Rampino, "Armi e aerei per lo shopping del colonnello",, August 29th 2010. Read also Luisa Leone, "I tre assi di Finmeccanica in Libia", MF, September 1st 2010.

(8) Those who think the local development approach to be naïve should instead reflect on how important where UNRRA and Marshall Plan to promote the democratic development of Western Europe and grant the American world leadership following World War II (Read, for instance, William I. Hitchcock, Liberation - The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945, London, Faber and Faber, 2009, pp. 446).

Even if present conditions are different, Europe might as well profitably lead the development of new economies and internal markets in Africa, a role which - at that moment - has actually been fully taken up by China. As a mere example, the adoption and implementation of agroforestry systems is pushing back the desert and dramatically improving living conditions in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.

The effects of these techniques, which happen to be costless and need nothing but farmers' education, are clearly visible from the satellite: it is estimated that in the sole Niger farmers were able to grow 200 million of trees, thus restoring and fertilizing  3,125 sq km of previously wasted land (Read Mark Hertsgaard, "Comme le Sahel reverdit", Le Monde diplomatique, August 2010, p. 19).

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