Why Canada must commit to Africa

Ted Jackson

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may not agree, but a positive relationship between Canada and Africa is important for the future of both.

What values and interests will shape the future Africa? What will Africa look like 25 years from now? Fifty years from now? And how will the leaders of a future Africa relate to Canada and other western democracies?

The Harper Government is certainly not preoccupied with these questions. Our Department of Foreign Affairs is reported to be preparing to close more embassies on that continent; if so, we’ll soon be represented on the ground in less than a third of African countries.

Our aid program continues to focus bilateral resources on only seven African nations, when there are two-dozen countries in the region, many of them fragile, that badly need development assistance. In fact, the latest indications are that CIDA intends to reduce its spending in Africa next year, reportedly by $100 million.

African diplomats are getting the message. Africa is not a priority for Canada, at least for this government. It was no accident that we lost the vote for a seat on the Security Council. Among the factors contributing to our unprecedented defeat was the loss of support among African countries, support that we benefited from in earlier eras. It is simple political logic: if we care less about Africa, they care less about us.

DFAIT is crystal clear about its current priorities: Expanding trade with emerging markets like China, Brazil and India; strengthening diplomatic and economic relations with the United States and the Americas; continuing to support Afghanistan; asserting leadership in global governance through the G8 and G20; and transforming the department, including a commitment to “focus on core business.” And that core business doesn’t include Africa.

So what? What’s the cost of shifting away from Africa and toward these other priorities?

There is nothing wrong at all, of course, with boosting trade with Latin America and with the BRICs; indeed, this is important and necessary for a small, open economy like ours. And trying to regain influence on the global stage is also a worthy objective. But to pursue these and other activities at the expense of Africa is bad policy and bad strategy.

Here’s why:

1. Until recently, our close relations with Africa, and our positive reputation there for doing responsive and creative development, was a source of significant diplomatic leverage in world affairs. In fact, we have enjoyed the unique comparative advantage of strong links with African countries in La Francophonie and in the Commonwealth. We need to rebuild this valuable asset.

2. Most of the world’s poorest nations are African. There is still very important work to be done to reduce poverty on the continent for many years. Canada has the expertise – at CIDA, in our NGOs and educational institutions, and in our private sector – to not only contribute to this effort, but to regain a leadership role in areas such as microfinance, local governance, independent media, anti-corruption, infrastructure, and more. To do this, we need to retool our aid program – to make it bolder and more nimble, and to get our people on the ground out of the capital cities and working closely with local partners.

3. The protection and strengthening of human rights and women’s rights are central tasks in building the Africa of the future. However, some of our competitors on the continent have very different perspectives on these issues. China’s record on human rights remains unacceptable, on its own soil and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia and Iran are relentlessly misogynist. Well-resourced and gaining momentum, these and other forces promise to reduce the space for civil rights, democracy, and gender equality in Africa in the years ahead. In addition to western nations, our allies in these struggles include Brazil and India. This battle can’t be avoided. Our NGOs are skilled and committed to this work, and there are courageous local champions who need, and want, our support.

4. Unless we are on the ground across Africa, and actively promoting Canadian economic interests, we will lose commercial opportunities to the new powers, as well. Ghana, notably, is a country that will likely achieve middle-income status in the next decade and where business opportunities for Canadians abound in resources, infrastructure, and services. Other African economies are on a growth trajectory, as well. But, again, unless we invest more heavily in Africa, we will lose out on these opportunities to India, China, Brazil, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa – all aggressively positioning themselves on the continent and already capturing major deals. Sending a signal of things to come perhaps, China recently provided Ghana with a credit facility of $9 billion.

5. Finally, there is the question of security. Terrorist groups have embedded themselves in the Sahel and other parts of the continent. Regional warlords have gained access to greater firepower. Drug networks send cocaine from Latin America and heroin from Afghanistan to Africa for onward distribution to Europe and North America. Unless the world takes steps to counter these trends, Africa could become a catalyst of global instability.

So the game is big and the stakes are high – so high, in fact, that they merit working across partisan and ideological lines. Most parliamentarians, one would hope, could agree on funding programs that provide credit and training to African women for business and economic development. Meeting basic needs for education and health, strengthening accountability in local government – there are many areas of that could attract broad support from progressives as well as conservatives in Canada.

It’s also possible that the Harper government won’t change its mind on Africa. That wouldn’t be unexpected. Yet there is much that can be done without our federal government. NGOs, universities and colleges, major corporations, media outlets and diasporic African-Canadians with close ties to the continent all have a strong interest in doing more with their partners to help shape the Africa of the future.

Either way, with or without our government, it’s time to re-commit to Africa.

(This article first appeared in The Mark)

Edward Jackson is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University.

This entry was written by Ted Jackson and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: , , . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media: http://carletonnow.carleton.ca/?p=6123

By Ted Jackson

Ted Jackson is a faculty member in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University.

Be a part of the Carleton Now community

Carleton Now strives to be an inclusive, relevant and informative publication focused on building and fostering an engaged campus community. You can be a part of our community by: sharing or voting for this article (below), joining in the conversation, or by sending a submission/letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.

Current issue