Italian aid: New government, new architecture?

Cécile Kyenge Kashetu and Emma Bonino. Photo by: personal website and Francesca Minonne

There are many questions about the future of Italian aid, but the only certainty so far is that a woman will take the lead on the country’s development cooperation.

Italy’s new coalition government, announced on Sunday and led by Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party, have ministers from the left and right sitting in the Cabinet, a first since 1947.

Former European Union commissioner Emma Bonino, internationally known for her commitment to the fight for civil rights and against hunger, now heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which currently manages official development assistance, while African-Italian Cécile Kyenge Kashetul is in charge of the Ministry for Integration, an agency without portfolio and an unclear mission but that could also play a part in the country’s international development policy.

Who will take the lead?

The architecture of Italian aid is yet to be designed. The previous government established an international cooperation and integration ministry that was supposed to direct and coordinate ODA, although the foreign affairs ministry retained core powers over policy.

On Sunday, the official list of ministries made no reference to international cooperation, only an integration ministry. Government sources however told Devex it is too early to say what mandate will be given to that ministry.

Before the vote, the aid community signed an appeal to Italian political parties to support a 10-point program, including appointing a high-level aid chief, ideally at the Cabinet level.

Emma Bonino

“Development cooperation is not a luxury,” Bonino said last October at the first Italian Forum for International Cooperation held in Milan, where the country’s new top diplomat stressed how crucial development cooperation is.

Speaking to an audience of development professionals, she summarized her vision, calling for a stronger link between humanitarian relief and development as well as greater investments in the area of law and democracy, seeing the enforcement of the rule of law as a means for achieving economic and social development.

Bonino also envisioned a more relevant place for Italy in the European Union’s development policy, which she referred to as “a little bit obsolete.”

“It is [also] not possible (…) to [have] projects funded by European countries that are not only incoherent, but in conflict [with one another],” she said.

“I have the idea that we continue to fund projects of a world that is not be there anymore, for needs and priorities that are not there anymore (…) We cannot do today the same things that were useful 30 years ago,” she said.

Bonino, 65, has been a leading figure in the Italian and international political scene since her first election as member of parliament for the Radical Party in 1976. She founded Food and Disarmament International and also headed Italian Parliamentarians against Hunger, an organization focused on increasing Italian contribution to development assistance.

Italy’s new foreign minister has promoted international campaigns for the protection of human rights worldwide, taken part in humanitarian interventions and peace processes, and helped establish the International Criminal Court. In 1995, after serving as member of the European Parliament, Bonino was appointed the first EU commissioner for humanitarian aid. She headed the European Community Humanitarian Office, which was created three years earlier.

A co-founder of No Peace without Justice, Bonino serves in the board of many internationally known organizations such as the International Crisis Group, Open Society Initiative for Europe, European Council on Foreign Relations and Istituto Affari Internazionali.

Cécile Kyenge Kashetu

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cécile Kyenge Kashetu arrived in Italy in 1983. The 49-year-old ophthalmologist began her political career in 2004, when she was first elected to a local government position by the Democratic Party and later supervised an Italian development project to train health professionals in her native Congo.

A champion of migrants’ rights, she has pushed for programs to grant citizenship to immigrants. Kyenge is the president of the intercultural association DAWA and the group Giù le Frontiere as well as collaborates with the Center for International Political Studies.

Before being appointed minister for integration, she focused her electoral campaign on the idea of “codevelopment.” Kyenge believes that is possible to find new ways to link integration and international cooperation, exploiting the potential of migration to trigger development in the countries of origin as well as of destination.

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About the author

  • Io

    Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.