The Lagos Black Heritage Festival continued on the second day with a colloquium on the emigration of Africans across the Mediterranean, particularly their sojourn in Italy.
In her keynote presentation ‘The Black Mediterranean: Migrants’ Routes in the Global Millennium’; Alessandro Di Maio of the University of Palermo, Italy, traced the trans-Saharan sojourns of Africans in their quest for better lives in Europe.
Ms. Di Maio noted that Italy was a largely emigrating country since the Unification in the 1800s and not until 1990 when the first law on immigration was promulgated to check the influx of Africans.
This year’s festival focused on Italy because of the Italians’ exploits in Eritrea and Ethiopia and their gesture in returning some of the stolen African artefacts in its collection, according to Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the festival’s consultant.
The Italian Job
While delivering his paper ‘Western Imperialism: The Italian Connection’; Christian Akani said that Italy also played an ‘ignoble’ role in the division and colonization of Africa.
“Whenever we talk about colonization, we tend to always focus on countries like Britain, Spain, Netherlands, France,” said Mr. Akani, of the Department of Political Science, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rivers State.
“In my research, I discovered that Italy participated in drawing the resources and humiliating Africa, especially in the 19th century,” Mr. Akani said.
“In Eritrea, they were not given the right to education, only to participate in menial jobs,” he said.
Mr. Akani noted that after the Italian state came into existence in 1881, it embarked on an expansionist move to annex the remaining African territories of Ethiopia, Libya, Northern Somalia, and Eritrea; after most of the African nations had been colonized by the other European countries.
“Imperialism came to Africa because of economic determinants, not because of civilization,” said Mr. Akani.
“Unfortunately, that was not the case with Italy. They came to Africa to assuage the nationalistic pride of (Benito) Mussolini. All other countries in Europe had colonies…
“In condemning other European countries for Africa’s under development, Italy should be regarded as one of the culprits,” added Mr. Akani.
Tuesday’s event which paraded a mixture of Nigerian and Italian speakers held inside the newly inaugurated ultra modern Kongi’s Harvest Art Gallery, named after Mr. Soyinka.
Adding his voice to Mr. Akani’s assertions, Tundonu Amosu noted that the Italians “went to grab what was left of Africa” after the division at the Berlin Conference.
“Today the image of Africans in Italy is not a flattering one…
“The Mahgrebs engage in drug peddling and larceny.
“The Senegalese engage in selling all the petty things like elephant tusks and masks.
“The Nigerian connection is in the triple activity of drug peddling, prostitution, and human trafficking,” said Mr. Amosu, a Professor of French at the Lagos State University.
“Italy is going through a difficult time and the instinct for self preservation may not bode well for Africans who are engaged in these unfortunate conditions,” he added.
Nike Okundaye, an artist and social worker, recounted stories of how parents sold their lands to pay for their daughters to go to Italy.
“They go through the Republic of Benin, stay there for six months, and then travel to Italy,” said Ms. Okundaye in her presentation ‘From Edo to Roma – With Love?’
Other speakers at the colloquium include Peju Layiwola, an Associate Professor at the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Lagos; Maria-Stella Rognoni of the University of Florence, Italy; Olu Ajayi, an artist; and Marco Ambrosi, a photographer; amongst others.
The festival is expected to climax next Monday with the Lagos Carnival.