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Investing in Developing Countries? It can be done. And Italy is in the lead

The answer to large migration inflows from Developing Countries can be conceived in terms of evangelization prospects. Being present in those places in need and deliver significant investments that will further the identification of targeted solutions. Africa is a receptive ground owing to its yearning for growth and improve the living conditions of populations that for centuries have lagged behind before the progress of the industrial development of Western Countries. However, this approach requires overcoming capitalistic “cronysm” …

Can Africa and developing Countries be viewed from a different angle, as compared to the gnawing concerns of the western world regarding the huge inflow migrants expected to arrive in the coming months? The answer is Yes, provided the adoption of a different, innovative approach, comparable to the thrust that led thousand of missionaries to leave for Africa, Asia and the Americas in the past two-three centuries to proclaim the Gospel. Problems existed at the time, as they do today. The Church created the “frontier apostolate”, the so-called missions “ad gentes”, that enabled the spread of Christianity worldwide. Similarly, given the present epochal economic and social challenges, notably the great migration flows, the answer should be similar: go to the areas experiencing problems and bring the solutions. From this perspective, Ernst&Young, world leading auditing and corporate consultancy company, carried out a research on Africa and investment opportunities. The Report, “Staying the course, despite a relative economic slow down” features the outcomes of a survey that analysed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) at global level, focusing on the most relevant investments in Africa. Focusing on Africa wasn’t a random decision. In fact, while on the one hand Africa is the world’s poorest Continent, with large groups of countries marked by very low levels of industrial and technological development, on the other, for the past couple of decades Africa has been the object of urgent “attention” by European and US multinationals, as well as of corporations, in particular from China and India, on the hunt for industrially virgin areas to establish their businesses extracting, producing and conquering dominant market positions. The Ernst&Young survey outlines productive investments in particular, the official ones, with some surprises, also for us Italians.

The Italian budget record (7.4 billion). The report shows that last year (2015 on 2014) foreign investment declined by 5% worldwide, but strangely enough investment in Africa increased by 7%. In fact the 2015 budget involved 71.3 billion dollar invested in Africa, compared to a mean annual investment of 68 Bln in the past five years. This is good news, but unfortunately it does not involve all African countries, for it benefitted in particular southern Africa, some northern States, a part of western Africa, while only 2.3% of investments were made in central Africa. This also explains why so many migrants arriving on barges come from the Countries in so-called Sub-Saharan Africa, among the poorest in the world. The snapshot of investing States shows a ranking in terms of number of projects and invested sums. Based on this criteria the US ranks first with 96 projects and 6.9 billion dollars invested, followed by the UK (77 projects, 4.9 billion, France, UAE (United Arab Emirates), India, Germany, South-Africa, China, Switzerland, up to Italy with 16 projects. And here comes the surprise:

Italy ranks eleventh in terms of number of projects but it ranks first in terms of the amount of money invested, amounting to 7.4 billion dollars.

The explanation for this record is simple: the greatest amount of Italian investments are by ENI company (6 billion out of a total of 7.4), thanks to a gas research project on Egyptian territory. Other Italian projects involve renewable energy, consumer goods, (which Africa is in great need of), infrastructures, mechanical engineering etc.

Investing in migrants’ departure countries. Ernst&Young analysts underlined that Africa is a receptive Continent, yearning to grow and improve the living conditions of populations that for centuries have lagged behind compared to the industrial development of Western countries. There is a need for practically everything: from basic goods such as water, pipelines, railways, power lines, housing and school facilities, health care, financial and technological services, to high-tech tertiary sector services (which in Italy is called “Industry 4.0 “), namely the internet of things, neural networks, smart-cities, cloud. There is also good news: the global poverty threshold dropped from 1.9 billion of poor in 2006 to 836 million today, many of whom live in Africa. ENI has also promoted a dedicated seminar (in cooperation with Studio Ambrosetti) on the assumption that Europe must focus its investments in the Countries from which people are migrating to boost development and gradually end the huge migratory flow. This approach should be marked by increasingly “green” energy, based on renewable sources. It is no coincidence that Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, in the framework of a conference titled “Towards a fairer, more human economy” held in Rome a few days ago, said that we must overcome capitalistic “cronysm” (which, especially in Africa, supports dictators and local autocrats in exchange for job orders). Increasingly substantial concrete interventions by organisms such as the World Bank, the European Investment Banks, various UN bodies, and the European Union, bode well for the future. And for once, in Italy we should be happy because the balance of direct investment to Africa for the year 2015 shows that Italy was in the lead in terms of invested capital.

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