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Bridging the great deficit of knowledge that there is, especially in Italy, to a continent of great potential for our country
Interview with Lia Quartapelle, member of Italian Chamber of Deputies, Secretary of Commission III Foreign and European Community Affairs.
In 2007 you collaborated with the Government of Mozambique, working as an economist in the Italian Cooperation in Mozambique. During this experience, you had the chance to observe closely the efforts of a large African country to take the path towards development. What does “development” in a country like that mean, and what challenges do hey face in pursuing it?
My time spent in Mozambique, and subsequent trips there were fascinating: the opportunity to see up close how in only a few years (the first time I was in Maputo was in 2003), a country can radically change the condition of life of its citizens. The economics of development has a “golden rule”: dividing the number 70 for the average annual growth rate, you get the number of years in which a country can double the income of its citizens (for example, if a country is growing by 7% annually, it will take 10 years for it to double the average income of its citizens). In these ten years of visiting Mozambique I have seen radical changes, not only in Maputo but across the country. For me however, one image explains very well what being an emerging country means. I had a close friend and colleague of the same age, with a degree in economics like me: in the space of two years he has been able to buy a house for himself and his family. Unthinkable for my age in Italy. Certainly, not all that glitters is gold: against growth rates above 5% for years, not everything is good in the country, but at times social tensions have indeed been exacerbated.
You are currently a research associate at the ISPI where you have already served as a manager for the Africa program. What concrete contributions can a cooperation between different study centers bring in setting priorities for action in Africa and in the effectiveness of the policies of the international community?
The contribution of research institutions to the cause of Africa is above all one: bridging the great deficit of knowledge that there is, especially in Italy, to a continent of great potential for our country.
In your opinion, is the image that citizens of Western Africa has entirely realistic or not? I have worked for years in Africa and in our relations with the African continent. I have often found superficial knowledge and treatment, even by our media, according to unacceptable stereotypes , which certainly represent an obstacle to the development of the African economy. A recent emblematic and striking example is the debate and the psychosis generated by the epidemic of the Ebola virus. Certainly a very serious epidemic, which deserved attention and extraordinary measures, which in fact have been adopted. What our media have forgotten, however, is that the virus has hit three of fifty-four countries. The message that has come to the citizens is that the whole of Africa was some sort of huge military hospital inhabited by spreaders that threatened our health through migration. The damage has been enormous, from the tourism sector, which suffered huge declines in areas of the African continent which are as far away from the affected areas they are from Rome or Milan. Not to mention the uncertainty created among international investors.
What drew you to Africa and to the issues related to its development? Honestly, the interest in Africa stems not so much from study or work, from friends and travel. In short, it was love at first sight, and then I was lucky that this almost unbridled passion became my main object of study and then field of work.
How has Africa changed in the last few years: what opportunities were taken advantage of and which were missed? OECD data tell us that the GDP of the African continent is growing strongly. Projections for 2014 indicate a growth rate equal to 4.8%, with a further acceleration in the next year that could reach a record level of between 5 and 6%. By 2020, the GDP of the continent could even double, thanks to the dynamism of South Africa and the new, large investments of all the BRICS countries. In development cooperation, it is normal that solidarity motivations are combined with the political and economic interests of the donors. Italy could do more to exploit its geographical position as a hinge between Europe and Africa. And that is both from the point of view of economic dynamics, and in order to strengthen cooperation in the cultural sphere, and to have an effect on the political dynamics of the continent, in particular with regards to the issue of conflict mediation.