OTTAWA – Canada is approaching complete irrelevance on the world’s fastest-growing continent, experts argue, saying a pattern of disconnection in trade, diplomacy and investment in Africa means Ottawa is ceding ground to Russia and China.
“Africa will go to Canada’s friendly zone if the current approach is maintained, because it is lukewarm,” said Stanley Achonu, Nigeria director for One Campaign.
His organization, which fights extreme poverty and preventable diseases, testified this week before the Senate foreign affairs committee, which is examining Canada’s relations with a continent that is on track to nearly double its population by 2050.
The liberals have been promising a strategy for Africa for years. The long-awaited document was described last year as a framework and has not yet been published.
In recent years, senators have warned that Canada is falling behind its peers, as well as emerging states, in establishing strategies for trade and development with a continent of more than a billion people.
They point out that Africa represents most of the world’s potential for solar panels and has huge reserves of critical minerals and carbon-reducing ecosystems. The World Bank says an impending continental free trade deal could lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty and inject $3.4 trillion into African economies.
But to get there, Africa needs better governance, huge infrastructure projects and debt restructuring, according to Christopher MacLennan, Canada’s top bureaucrat overseeing foreign aid.
Nicolas Moyer, director of the nonprofit educational organization Cuso International, testified that Canada is losing influence in countries where Beijing and Moscow are gaining influence and undermining the enormous role Ottawa played in previous decades of development work.
“Actually, Canada needs Africa more than Africa needs Canada,” said Moyer, whose group was formerly called Canadian University Service Overseas.
“The longer our distance from Africa persists, the more difficult it will be to repair relations and build on them for the future.”
Moyer said much of Africa could be a key partner for Canada, just as South Korea evolved to be. The country remembers Canada’s sacrifice in the Korean War and decades of development work, and is now an economic powerhouse that sees Ottawa as a key partner in everything from artificial intelligence to natural gas imports.
Moyer noted that Canadian investments have helped seed real change across Africa, for example, with the Liberals and Conservatives focusing on maternal health and women’s access to education.
Those investments have led to fewer teen pregnancies and lower rates of child marriage, which has helped dramatically reduce infant mortality rates.
“Canada can be a leader on the African continent, if not with the power of its pocketbook, then with conviction, consistency and a long-term commitment to our partners,” Moyer said, but that will require “resisting distractions, of which There are many, to change our directions.”
That would require a decolonial approach to identifying what Africans want and playing a supporting role in advancing those goals, for example by organizing international summits.
In places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Moyer’s group has helped support sexual and gender minorities by funding business projects for them.
That gives marginalized people a foothold in the economy so they can pursue their own projects, such as using talk radio to fight anti-gay stigma in a way that isn’t seen as an imposition of Western values.
Achonu said Canada’s focus on LGBTQ+ rights will go further if African countries feel respected and see that Ottawa is seeking to invest in their success rather than lecturing on social issues, a strategy he said risks make the commitment “dead on arrival.”
“Creating an association first will open the door to future conversations about rights,” he said.
Many of these recommendations are reflected in a report last July by Cooperation Canada, an umbrella group of development organizations, which said countries from Japan to India had already published strategies on how to engage with Africa.
He proposed that Canada focus on working with civil society groups in Africa, arguing that many of the issues affecting the entire continent require working with more than just government officials and preventing authoritarian governance.
Achonu also said Ottawa should help provide low-cost financing for infrastructure projects by tripling its funding for FinDev, the development finance institution.
He noted that the government increased the agency’s budget for work in the Indo-Pacific by $750 million last year, and said a similar increase would help build African projects.
Achonu said China’s popularity in Africa is partly due to branding exercises.
“All over Africa you see concrete infrastructure that you can point to…financed by China or built by Chinese companies through loans. But I cannot say the same for Western partners who want Africa on their side,” he stated.
Part of the problem is that Canada tends to fund programming rather than construction projects, he said.
“Are there tangible things that Africans can point to and say ‘built by Canada’ or ‘made by Canada?’ And I don’t say this lightly: Canada saves lives, the investments made in critical areas like health are not luxurious.”
MacLennan testified that Canadian officials still receive a warm welcome in Africa and said Ottawa does not face the same pressure as its European peers who have a more visible presence in Africa because Canada’s geographic location requires it to also focus on having a visible presence. in Africa. the Indo-Pacific.
The International Development Research Centre, a federal Crown corporation, argued that Canada maintains its relevance in Africa in part by collaborating with individual countries.