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There are good reasons for Canada’s prime minister to visit Africa.
African leaders are looking to change their relationships with Western democracies from being dependent on foreign aid to more mature trading partnerships.
The old-style paternalistic aspects of foreign aid are considered inappropriate for many countries in sub-Saharan Africa now emerging from Third World conditions. The region features some of the fastest growing economies in the world, in countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana.
Those countries need everything, from raw materials to engineering to food, and Canada, which should be looking to diversify its trade, is well-positioned to supply them.
Those possibilities were well down on Justin Trudeau’s agenda as he visited Ethiopia and Senegal this week. Mostly, he was there for the latest version of Canada’s diplomatic vanity project: acquiring enough votes for a seat on the UN Security Council.
That vote will be held in June and Canada is vying for one of two seats against Norway and Ireland.
First stop was Ethiopia, where Trudeau attended African Union meetings. He met several heads of state; he looked for votes and promised $10 million for gender equity. Then it was on to the French-speaking West African country of Senegal, where things got awkward.
Trudeau acquired Senegal’s backing for the UN vote, but raised the issue of that country’s treatment of gays and lesbians. Same-sex relationships are illegal there and can result in a jail sentence. Gay marriage is unthinkable.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said his country has no intention of changing. “It is not possible,” he said. “Our country does not accept it.”
The hypocrisy is palpable. On the one hand, Canada makes a big deal of defending LGBTQ rights on the global scene. On the other, we’re happy to court approval from a country that criminalizes homosexuality.
It’s especially galling when you consider how little is at stake. What, exactly, does a seat on the security council do for Canada?
It’s not like a seat confers influence. Whatever matters of consequence are discussed at the security council are subject to a veto from the five permanent members anyway.
Perhaps the Liberals are working to assuage wounds from the years of funding cuts Canada’s diplomatic corps suffered under Stephen Harper’s government.
Trudeau did discuss a foreign investment protection agreement with Ethiopia. However, our business leaders say Canada is way behind China, the EU and the U.S. in building economic ties in the region.
And other African leaders wondered why, when Canada hasn’t restored diplomatic missions closed by Harper, Trudeau is showing up now looking for UN votes.
So why doesn’t Canada mount an ambitious trade mission to Africa? That should have been the focus of Justin Trudeau’s trip.
Surely Canadians could derive more benefits from drumming up business in economies starving for investment than a misguided tour that didn’t do much more than tilt at diplomatic windmills.