Commentary. It's no coincidence that military spending is greatest to Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria.

Our ‘aid’ is the sale of weapons

In the distorted and problematic Italian public debate, the main goal of politicians is to keep problems and responsibilities away from the electorate’s view, and not only on the epoch-making migration phenomenon.

On the few occasions when the government has glanced to the places of origin of migrations (I think specifically about Africa), it recalls a rhetoric message of “help them at their home,” with no concrete or effective plan.

The old promises, also subscribed at the international level by Italy, to allocate at least 0.7 percent of GDP to public (direct, indirect and multilateral) development aid, remained a dead letter. In 2015 Italy, even though it lived a growth trend, destined only 0.22 percent of GDP to this, and a good slice of the almost €4 billion remained in our own borders and was invested to handle the migration phenomenon.

On the other hand, the governments of the last few years have been very active in making Africa a terminal for our business, especially for arms deals. In the first 25 years of the law 185/90, sub-Saharan Africa received €1.3 billion of arm permits, accounting for 2.4 percent of the total. Then, we should add the higher figures for the countries of the southern Mediterranean: Algeria alone has received licenses for €1,659 million in 25 years. Globally, Africa attracts 9 percent of the world’s annual arms imports with Algeria in the lead (46 percent of the continental inflow of weapons in the last five years and in the global Top 5 list or arm importers) followed by Morocco and Nigeria.

Thirty-five percent of African military imports falls below the Sahara, supplied by major vendors Russia, China, the United States and France. A market driven by the continent’s military spending that reached in 2016 just under $38 billion, up 48 percent over a decade despite a slight recent downturn. At the top of military spending, there are Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria, alongside Sudan, Angola and Tunisia.

Our recent governments have attempted to retrieve positions in a market that (according to the MAECI) “our defense material exports were generally marginal, due to the limited economic possibilities of sub-Sahara Africa, and the restrictions imposed by situations of latent conflict and internal and regional instability.”

The best example of this strategy was the tour of the Cavour aircraft carrier between November 2013 and April 2014. The Defense Ministry attempted to “sell” this tour as a humanitarian effort or linked to anti-piracy operations. Instead, it became a huge fair (and spot) for the Italian military industry. Even with the presence of stands on the bridges of the Navy’s flagship, which could not even move without the rich sponsorship of the armament industry, given the high operating costs.

After the first stages in the Middle East, the journey of the “Moving Country System” (this is the official title) touched Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and Algeria. This immediately kicked the protests of the anti-war world: these were the countries with the highest continental military spending, five of which were tagged as “authoritarian regimes” by the Democracy Index of The Economist, while seven registered a low “human development index,” all under the 142nd place of the UNDP list.

The results for the military industry were seen right away. In 2016, sales were allowed not only to Angola, Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Algeria and Morocco (among the countries visited in the tour) but also to Chad, Mali, Namibia and Ethiopia (a country in constant conflict with Eritrea). “The most obvious case of this strategy is Angola,” says Giorgio Beretta, an analyst at Opal Brescia. We never sold arms to this country or to the Congo since the Law 185/90, but in 2016 authorizations for nearly €90 million were issued. But if we account for contracts already signed, according to news from the same armament industry, sales may have already exceeded €200 million.”

On the sidelines of the Cavour African Tour, there were rumors of the sale of the old Garibaldi helicopter carrier (also to make room for the new Trieste aircraft carrier that was funded later) to Angola. The sale of the used ship did not go through on the one hand, due to financial problems caused by the collapse of oil prices, and on the other for the change of President that prevented the then Minister of Defense Mario Mauro to go to Luanda as planned (with an angry Angolan government).

Not too bad, because the new tenant of the Via XX Settembre office, Roberta Pinotti, has tried to fix it: the then Minister of Defense and current President Joao Lourenço was among the first to be received in Rome. He repeated the trip in 2016 while Pinotti herself went to Luanda in September 2015. On the slipstream of Matteo Renzi’s visit the prior year, defined as epochal and dawn to a new season of economic and development co-operation with African countries. But it now seems that it was mostly the starting point for new military business deals.

Many thought these numbers reflect a failure of African policymakers, who choose to invest most of their national budgets in guns and soldiers to keep their own positions. But if one – from Italy – is aware of the situation and continue to unscrupulously signing contracts, one can only be defined as an accomplice. At their home.

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