Amid the stunning backdrop of the Italian coastline, Africo, a small village in southern Italy, highlights a stark contrast between its natural beauty and the harsh realities its residents face in their daily lives.
Africo, home to 3,200 people, struggles with an astounding 40 percent unemployment rate, leaving most people with meagre annual earnings averaging just £12,000.
Youth unemployment is out-of-control, and more than a-third of the population is over 55. Astonishingly, only 10 villagers have an income above £34,000 a year.
The village’s economic landscape is desolate, lacking shops, factories, or significant tourism. The pristine coastline and the azure Ionian Sea remain undiscovered treasures, largely unexplored. It boasts just one beachfront bed and breakfast and a solitary pizzeria named “Il Gabbiano” (The Seagull).
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The local railway station is idle, and taxi services are virtually nonexistent, leaving residents with limited access to amenities in Reggio Calabria, 50 miles away.
For many residents, government jobs funded by taxpayers are the only lifeline. La Forestale, the Forestry Commission, which oversees the nearby mountainous terrain and its unique flora and fauna, provides limited opportunities.
However, the harsh reality remains – residents are left with a binary choice: join La Forestale or emigrate, or worse yet, turn to the Mafia, the clandestine state within the state.
The Bar Crown in Africo, despite its English name, serves as a stark reminder of the ‘Ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian Mafia organisation that has eclipsed its Sicilian counterpart, Cosa Nostra. The ‘Ndrangheta’s principal source of wealth is the lucrative cocaine trade, coupled with its subtle infiltration into politics and the judiciary.
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The bar often attracts a younger clientele. Some, even at a young age, are drawn to drug dealing, lured by the promise of an income in a place where opportunities are scarce.
Italy, as a whole, faces systemic challenges. Its public debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 135 percent, among the highest globally. The nation’s economy has struggled since the 2007-08 financial crisis, with unemployment rates soaring, and tax burdens weighing heavily on businesses.
In Africo and similar regions of southern Italy, the grip of the Mafia as a parallel state remains a formidable challenge. Allegations of Mafia infiltration in public works contracts have led to the dissolution of the town council twice in recent years, with the Italian government stepping in to manage the town through a commission of civil servants from Rome.
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