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Harper Should Do More For Africa

28 July 2007 at 19:53 | 722 views

By Clement Apaak, Vancouver, Canada.

Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada has come under attack, in recent times, from many Africa advocates, including U2 front man, Bono, Bob Geldof the Irish Rocker, Canadian MP Belinda Stronach and myself (Apaak).

We have been critical of him because he seems not to be paying attention to the African continent and he seems to be reneging on long standing Canadian involvement in trying to help the African people.

Most people will agree that the G8 nations have a moral obligation to help improve the conditions of the African people. After all, most of the resources from Africa are used for the benefit of G8 nations, to support the opulent lifestyles of G8 citizens, while Africans live in extreme poverty. They have no access to the bare necessities of life that those of us in places like Canada take for granted.

Harper’s apparent general lack of interest in anything African is so blatant and causes me to think he may be the only Canadian and world leader like that in recent history. This charge, if true, has serious implications for the African people, and African/Black Canadians.

It will mean that those of us who hoped that Canada will be working in partnership with African leaders and civil society groups in fermenting new ways to help change conditions in Africa are in for a shock. It is particularly striking because it was here in Canada that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien introduced NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development) to G8 leaders, and the world as the way forward. Paul Martin, on his part, continued that tradition and made Sudan, and Darfur in particular, a big part of his foreign policy. It is true that most of the leadership of Canada has come from the Liberal party. However, Brian Mulroney, a Conservative Prime Minister, had an interest in Africa, and travelled to the motherland of humanity.

The case against Harper is highlighted by the following examples:
Geldof, and Bono, at the just ended G8 summit in Germany criticized Harper neglecting Africa. Here is what Bono said: "I said some years ago that the world needs more Canada, and I meant it"... "I can’t believe that this Canada has become a laggard. I think he’s [Harper’s] out of sync with the people. Geldof added "A man called Stephen Harper came to Heiligendamm, but Canada stayed home.” The musicians noted that much of the $60 billion intended to fight HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases is old money, already promised but not yet delivered. Most observers know that this talk and no action is not new. Leaders of G7, now G8 nations, talk the talk and do not walk the walk. Outgoing Liberal MP Belinda Stronach agreed with the musicians, lashing out at Harper and his government for failing to live up to African aid commitments in an interview with CBC NewsWorld soon after the G8 meeting.

I commend her for her good work to help fight malaria and for her bold condemnation of the current government. She pointed out that the former Liberal government’s 2005 budget pledged to double African aid by 2010. Under the Liberals, Canada cancelled $9 million of debt owed by three African countries, Senegal, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Harper denied that he blocked African aid efforts, noting that, "I can say with absolute certainty that Canada was not blocking anything on this," Now, either Geldof and Bono are liars, or it’s Stephen Harper who is not saying the truth

Under Stephen Harper, African leaders have been disrespected in ways reminiscent of racism. Former Senegalese President, Abdou Diouf, was body searched in 2006 when he came to Canada although he had a diplomatic passport. That incident caused accusations of racial profiling of an African leader, and rightly so. In addition, Harper’s office had no idea or pretended not to know that the only female African leader, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, was in Canada in March this year, granting that her visit was private. The Harper team apparently had no idea she was visiting Canada. She must have had a visa and must have gone through customs. You will think that these two incidents would have caused the government to relook at how it reacts to African leaders and important personalities, but no.

The most recent disrespect for a known African icon, Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela’s humiliation happened just a few weeks ago. Winnie was denied a visa by the Canadian consulate in South Africa to attend a musical about her life in Canada. The reason was that she had a criminal record. Now, if Winnie cannot be allowed into Canada for a criminal record, how come Canada is home to genocide perpetrators and holocaust deniers? Since he became the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper has not made any substantial comment on anything African, forget policy. Rather, he has taken action that only supports the claims that he has no interest in helping the African people. For example, he disbanded the special advisory team on Darfur made up of Senators Dallaire, Jaffer and Ambassador Robert Fowler. He went on to disband the position of special envoy to the peace process in Sudan held by senator Jaffer.

It is important to note Senator Jaffer is the only African-born Canadian senator we have, and was doing a good job. I understand that both Dallaire and Jaffer are Liberal senators, but Harper could have replaced them in their various positions with Conservatives. But no, Africa is not important. To add insult to injury, he has since appointed special envoys and advisors to other parts of the world, not Africa.

Some may say that the recent participation of Foreign Minister Peter Mackay at an international conference in Paris aimed at speeding up the deployment of peacekeeping troops in Darfur is a sign that Harper is taking action. I say that is not enough. In fact, Canada could be leading the world on the Darfur issue rather than following. Harper should be hosting such a meeting not the new President of France.

The irony about Harper’s apparent lack of interest in Africa is that Canada has a Gov. Gen., Michaelle Jean, who traces her ancestry to the African continent. She has since visited the African continent. I wonder what discussions the two have had. I would like to be a fly on the wall to listen in. As an African advocate, I find Harper’s record disappointing because I assumed that recent Canadian leaders were predisposed to play a lead role in helping Africa move forward.

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