The United Nations has reported that poverty, conflict and climate change will leave fifteen million people across Africa’s Sahel region in need of life-saving aid next year.
The UN has now launched a record UD $2.7 billion humanitarian appeal for the region in 2017. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 40 percent of the money will be used in order to help some seven million people in Nigeria, who have been affected by Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency. OCHA has increased its appeal for eight countries in the semi-arid band that stretches from Senegal to Chad more than tenfold in as many years, however each year the funding has fallen short. This year’s US $2 billion appeal had been less than half-funded to date. According to the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator, Toby Lanzer, “the lack of funding this year has worsened the humanitarian needs of 11 million people in the Lake Chad Basin, where the crisis is most acute.” Figures released by the OCHA have indicated that one in six people across the Sahel region are hungry, while in many communities throughout the region, a fifth of children under the age of five are malnourished. Aid workers say that in addition to violence involving militant groups, climate change is also becoming a major factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region. This is due to increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, which disrupt local food production. Arame Tall, Africa regional coordinator for the UN-led Global Framework for Climate Services, states, “we are adapting by equipping farmers and policymakers with climate information and early warning forecasts, and being prepared not just weeks, but months and years ahead.”
The United Nations has also reported that the vast number of vulnerable people, and those who have been forced from their homes by violence across the Sahel region, some 4.5 million, is fuelling migration to Europe and driving more young men to join militant groups. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that this year, Nigeria has been the main country of origin for migrants arriving in Italy by sea. IOM data shows that at least 34,000 Nigerians have crossed from Libya so far in 2016, up from 22,200 last year. According to Anne Moltes, regional director of the peacebuilding group Interpeace, “families and communities are separated and split, education is disrupted and dreams of success dashed,” adding, “if there is no structure, young men leave to find figures of authority elsewhere.”
On Sunday 4th December, Italian citizens have made their decision: The proposed constitutional reform won’t become a reality. On a very high 68 per cent turnout, 60 per cent of the voters refused the proposal, determining the end of Matteo Renzi’s government, who had vowed to resign in case of loss. The young Prime Minister -at least the youngest in Italy’s history- came into power tow years and a half ago after orchestrating a sort of internal party coup in 2014. He took advantage of a chaotic political situation and he managed to take over the place of the then-PM Enrico Letta.
Renzi formed the third non-elected government of the last two years. However, his energy and self-assurance won the confidence of Italians. His agenda echoed in some ways the Obama’s “yes we can” campaign to win the U.S presidency. He pledged, in fact, immediate reforms and the demolition of the old political system. It is undeniable that he, also, enjoyed significant victories during his brief mandate, such as the approval of a controversial Job Acts and the electoral law. Nonetheless, during this period he has not been able to get over Italy’s long-lasting political divisions and its continuing economic malaise.
During this government the economic performance of the country has not exactly seen meaningful improvements. The former Premier has been accused of failing to reboot the stagnant economic growth and decrease the unemployment rate, which has been vacillating between 11,4 and 11,7 per cent for the last 15 months, with youth unemployment rate at 36,4 per cent. Because of this, as many analysts and commentators pointed out, the victory of NO is clearly not an indicator of an anti-establishment sentiment, but rather one more signal of deep discontent coming from the largest part of the population, increasingly impoverished and without any hope of prosperity.
Concerning the consequences that this Referendum might have on the stability of the Eurozone, it is still too soon to draw any conclusion. It is true that in the aftermath of the vote the euro dropped on the markets against the dollar, however it quickly recovered its losses already on Monday. Moreover, the majority of the most prominent figures in Europe seem to agree that the Italian vote does not mean a risk for the European stability. During the Eurogroup Finance Ministers meeting, the German minister Schaeuble, said that there’s no basis to talk of the Italian Referendum triggering a “euro crisis”, echoed by the French minister Sapin, who insisted that the Italian referendum “is a question of internal politics. It wasn’t about Europe.”
However, despite this outcome is with no doubt a primarily internal matter, it is not helpful for the EU either. The popular discontent fuels populist and extremist parties across the country like the far right Lega Nord led by Matteo Salvini and the anti-establishment 5Star Movements. They can count on a relatively large portion of the electorate and both see the EU as the ultimate responsible of the Italian depressive economic situation. They also pledge for the end of the single currency and the re-establishment of monetary sovereignty.
In the mean time, five days after the vote, it is not clear yet what is going to be the next step in the Italian politics, everyone is calling for new elections but the ball is in the hands of the President of the Republic, who, according to the most recent updates, is not willing to concede new elections as long as the current electoral law is not revisited. He is likely to appoint a head of government with the support of the current majority or a new enlarged majority with the task to vote for a new electoral law, which has been recently declared unconstitutional. Given the complicated situation, a caretaker government could last between four or six months at best, and then Italians, maybe, will go back to the polls.
Police in Italy arrested a Syrian man in the northern city of Genoa on 3 August on suspicion that he was planning to travel to his home country to join Islamist militants.
In a statement, police reported that their anti-terrorism unit had arrested an unemployed man, 23, who they said was planning to return to Syria to join the rebel group Nusra Front. He was arrested on suspicion of supporting international terrorism. Police have further disclosed that they are investigating the arrested man’s relationship with other foreigners in the Genoa area in order to determine whether they were trying to recruit fighters. They have disclosed that there is currently no indication that attacks in Italy were being planned.
The news comes just a day after Interior Minister Angelino Alfano disclosed that Italy had expelled a 26-year-old Pakistani man who officials have said supported the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and was planning to go to Syria to join Islamist militants.
The Syrian Islamist rebel group, which emerged at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, re-branded itself at the end of July this year as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and cut ties with international jihadist network al-Qaeda.
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti disclosed last week the the Italian government is ready to “positively evaluate” any request for air base or air space use in the US airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya if that would yield “a more rapid and effective end” to the campaign.
The minister made the comments in response to questions in the Chamber of Deputies about the airstrikes, which were launched on the IS stronghold town of Sirte. Pinotti further disclosed that the US military action, which began last week “will be limited in time and area of operation, doesn’t foresee the use of ground forces and is limited to allowing the Libyan forces to successfully defeat the terrorist forces in the area of Sirte,” adding, “the government is ready to positively evaluate any request for use of bases and air space if that would be functional to a more rapid and effective conclusion to the operation underway.” She noted that so far, the US airstrikes have not involved flights over Italian territory however she added that Premier Matteo Renzi’s government “contends that the success of the fighting aimed at eliminating terroristic centres of ISIS (IS) in Libya is of fundamental importance for the security not just of that country, but also of Europe and Italy.”
On Tuesday 2 August, Italy’s foreign minister disclosed that stabilizing Libya would also help control the migrant crisis. Migrant smugglers have exploited conflict and chaos in Libya to launch boats from its long Mediterranean coast carrying hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Italian shores.
Premier Renzi has in the passed repeatedly stressed that Italy would support anti-IS action in Libya only if the UN-brokered unity government requested such raids. Earlier this year, the Italian government disclosed that armed US drones could use the Sigonella base if needed to protect US military forces in anti-IS strikes in Libya however it stressed that it would not allow the Sicilian base to be used for offensive purposes. US President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to open a new, more persistent front against IS insurgents in Libya after the internationally backed government asked for help with precision targeting inside Sirte.
On Tuesday, 23 February, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi disclosed that Italy has agreed to allow armed US drones to take off from an air base in Sicily on a case-by-case basis for defensive missions against Islamic State (IS) militants in North Africa.
In an interview with RTL radio, Prime Minister Renzi disclosed that “if it is a matter of operations against terrorists, against potential Islamic State attackers, there is a close relationship between us and the other allies, above all the Americans.” The Italian prime minister, who has repeatedly stated that is country will not take part in military strikes in Libya without the express request of a recognized government, further disclosed that the defense mission would be authorized “case by case.” While Renzi has said that he prefers a diplomatic response to IS, which has faced US-led air strikes on the caliphate it has proclaimed across swathes of Syria and Iraq since 2014, on Tuesday he noted “but then, if we have proof that there are ‘kamikaze’ attackers preparing potential strikes, naturally Italy will do its part along with all the others.”
Late on Monday, an Italian defense ministry official disclosed that the agreement would effectively allow defensive missions and not offensive action, such as the attack on a suspected militant training camp in Sabratha, Libya that killed dozens last week. The ministry official further indicated that Italy will authorize departures from the Sigonella base near Catania only if each mission’s aim is to protect personnel, adding that so far no request had been made.
Sigonella, which is located in eastern Sicily, is home to a US Naval Air Station as well as a base for the Italian Air force. It is sometimes used for logistical support for American and other NATO forces. The Wall Street Journal has reported that US officials have been trying to persuade Italy to let them conduct such operations from the Sigonella air base for more than a year. It added that US officials are pushing for drones destined for offensive operations like the Sabratha strike to take off from Sicily, however Italian officials have baled at the step over fears of domestic opposition.
After expanding into Syria and Iraq, IS is now exploiting the ongoing chaos in Libya, where two rival government shave been vying for power since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. The militant group is trying to establish bases in the North African state in a bid to conduct raids both in Libya and in neighbouring Tunisia, which has already been affected by IS attacks. On 19 February, the US launched an attack on a base in Sabratha, near the Tunisian border, and targeted Nourredine Chouchane, a Tunisian militant linked to two raids in Tunisia that killed dozens, mostly tourists. The aircraft that carried out that attack took off from a base in Britain.