Ghaddafi Conquers Rome: When Muammar Ghaddafi Visited Rome Last Month, It Marked an Historic Occasion. It Was the First Time the Libyan Leader Had Ever Set Foot in Italy, the Old Colonial Power and, History Aside, It Confirmed Libya's Serious Intent to Build and Benefit from Renewed Economic Ties with the West. Stephen Williams Reports
Williams, Stephen, African Business
Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi's trip to Italy in June was an extraordinary affair from the moment he descended the steps of the Afriqiyah Airways plane that had brought him across the Mediterranean to the Italian capital. Adorned in full military regalia complete with a photo of Omar Al Muktar - a Libyan hero of the anti-colonial struggle executed by Italian Fascists in 1931 - he was greeted by a beaming Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
The visit was marked by two important speeches from the Libyan leader. He addressed the Italian senate and also a gathering of some of the country's most important businesswomen.
But the visit was also marked by controversy -- just days before the visit, the Italian state adopted a new policy towards would-be African immigrants. An Italian naval vessel intercepted a boat filled with Africans but, rather than escorting it to an Italian port where the passengers might apply for refugee status and sanctuary, it sent it back to Libya.
It marked the implementation of a new policy of turning away migrants who the Italian government insists are, in reality, economic refugees rather than political exiles. This policy plays well with the more xenophobic members of the Italian public.
It seems that Berlusconi, who apologised to Libya last August for his country's colonial rule and promised $5bn in reparations, had elicited the agreement of Ghaddafi over this new arrangement, but the new policy was roundly criticised by human rights' activists and condemned by the Italian Catholic church and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees agency.
It seemed particularly ironic that Ghaddafi should be a party to this agreement regarding African refugees when he currently chairs the African Union.
However, international affairs were undoubtedly lower on the agenda than Libya's bid to woo Italian and European economic cooperation and investment.
Ghaddafi lost no opportunity to Promote Libya's role as a partner for investment into Africa and went as far as to promise Italian investors priority treatment. Speaking to the Italian business community at Confindustria (Italy's industrialist organisation). The Libyan leader was clearly suggesting that no contracts would be awarded to another country at the expense of Italian interests.
Libya's bulging war chest
Emma Marcegaglia, Confindustria's current president appeared to agree with Ghaddafi when she said that Libya would be an excellent partner for Italian business to invest in Africa. In fact, the colonial heritage means that Italy is still Libya's largest trading partner with more than 100 Italian companies operating in the country, and Libya has long held stakes in Italy's economy, such as Fiat the carmaker (which is in the process of acquiring a significant part of the US's Chrysler Corporation) and the Juventus football club.
Libya has also announced its intention to buy up to 10% of Eni, Italy's oil super-major. Libya - Africa's third-largest oil producer and North Africa's biggest oil exporter - is Italy's biggest source of oil. In the first quarter of this year, it supplied 31% of the Italy's oil imports and 13% of its gas.
Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, said in Abu Dhabi prior to Ghaddafi's Italy visit that further investments in Italy's Enel (the generating parastatal) and Eni were being actively considered. "Libya is an important country for us," Fulvio Conti, chief executive of Enel had responded. "We have always had excellent relations and we will continue to do so in the future."
It has been thanks to its oil industry that Libya has built a huge $7obn sovereign wealth fund. Unlike the Gulf's sovereign wealth funds, which have seen the value of their international investments plummet in the global economic downturn, it would appear that the value of Libya's investment portfolio remains stable. …