Italy-Niger relations hold steady amidst global tensions

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Although relations with France and the USA are at an all-time low, the connection between Niamey and Rome remains strong.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani informed the Senate on 19 March that Italy is prepared to reinitiate bilateral collaboration with Niger. He noted recent visits by key officials to Niamey, where discussions laid groundwork for potential cooperation renewal.

Tajani emphasized the importance of maintaining engagement in the Sahel region, echoing sentiments echoed by the United States. He also emphasized that Riccardo Guariglia, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, head of the Inter-Forces Summit Operations Command, travelled to Niamey in early March.

“Withdrawing from the Sahel would make the region more hostile and certainly not more favourable to our strategic interests. We reiterate the advisability of resuming dialogue with the de-facto Niger authorities, a prospect on which the United States is also working,” he said.

Displaying resilience, Italy maintained a cautious approach when France proposed intervention post-coup. Defence Minister Guido Crosetto warned against rash actions, urging stability preservation.

This stance, echoed by the Italian government, facilitated ongoing collaboration with Niger and counter-extremism efforts. It aligns with the US approach, advocating dialogue with the ruling junta for pragmatic reasons, contrasting the European Union’s contemplation of sanctions.

The US National Security Council’s Judd Devermont emphasised continued engagement with the Nigerien military to safeguard against jihadist threats, noting significant US presence in the region, including a drone-launching base.

This is part of a broader initiative, as Rome sees an opportunity to expand its influence in Africa by implementing its Mattei Plan strategy and enhancing ties with African nations. It aims to elevate the African Union’s prominence globally, advocating for its inclusion in forums like the G-20. Moreover, Italy’s forthcoming leadership of the G-7 in 2024 will prioritize Africa.

With its growing engagement, Italy could play a significant role in Niger, collaborating with military leaders for a democratic transition, promoting stability, and rallying European support for development initiatives and military assistance.

It wouldn’t be the first time both countries have collaborated in the defence sector. Indeed, a defence cooperation agreement between Italy and Niger was concluded on 26 September 2017, and activated on 30 August 2019. Initially shrouded in secrecy, the agreement’s contents were disclosed following a court order prompted by legal action from ASGI (Association for Legal Studies on Immigration) and CILD (Italian Coalition for Civil Rights). This cooperation facilitated the deployment of an Italian military squadron in Niger. It also shifted the defence cooperation between Italy and Niger towards an industrial partnership, enabling the transfer of military equipment from Italy and permitting private entities to export such equipment, bypassing arms trade regulations.

Moreover, in 2019, a training programme was conducted in Niamey focusing on terrorism investigation techniques for 20 local judges and magistrates. It was let by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa. The course aimed to enhance counterterrorism capabilities and equip judges to adjudicate terrorist organizations in line with international standards.

Italian Ambassador Marco Prencipe hosted the programme’s closing ceremony, attended by Niger’s Minister of Justice Amadou Marou. And finally, in April 2023, the European Union awarded a €40 million contract to the Italian Ministry of Defence agency, Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo, to provide equipment for Niger’s armed forces training programme.

Even though diplomatic relations were only established on 18 July 1977, both countries share an older history. During Italy’s colonial era in Africa, particularly in the early 20th century, Italy established control over territories in North and East Africa, including Libya and parts of Ethiopia. These regions were connected with Niger, which facilitated interactions and influences between Italian colonial authorities and the surrounding African territories.

Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.