A few days ago, two events highlighted the economic and geopolitical importance of the African continent in the global competition between the United States and China.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was visiting Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy. He had a message: From now on, the United States will take Africa seriously, and not just because of its natural resources. He promised a new relationship and confirmed that next year’s summit will be held between Joe Biden and African leaders. Barack Obama hosted one in 2014. Then he stopped short in Dakar, Senegal. The opportunity to do things right, this is where the traditional China-Africa Economic Summit will open.
China is already a major player in Africa. He has been organizing summits with African leaders every three years for the past 20 years.
The Chinese are investing heavily in infrastructure and mines. Trade volume between China and Africa now amounts to $200 billion a year.
China does not neglect security issues, as evidenced by its only overseas military base, in Djibouti, and its 2,000 peacekeepers deployed in Congo, South Sudan, Darfur and Mali. Finally, cure it soft power By welcoming tens of thousands of African students every year, it is a way to train and influence future elites.
China and the United States are not the only powers thrust into a continent where former French and British colonial powers are trying to maintain their hegemony. India, Brazil, Turkey, Germany, Russia, South Korea and Japan are increasing investments, offers of cooperation and security programs. They copy the concept of summits with African leaders, a concept that France invented nearly 50 years ago. Even Israel is trying to organize one.
where is canada
All these countries have recognized the potential that the African continent offers: a demographic dynamic that favors the rapid growth of a large middle class, an increasingly educated population, abundant natural resources, and a more open trade framework with a very modern signature, by all Africans. The countries of the agreement establishing a free trade area covering the entire continent, and have great diplomatic weight in international bodies.
Canada is lagging behind. Its fingerprints are slowly fading on the continent. Thus, while Turkey just opened 43NS Embassy in Africa, Canada has closed many of them and has only twenty, like tiny Norway, a country of 5 million people.
Ottawa has never held a summit with African leaders, and Justin Trudeau declined an invitation to address the African Union in 2016.
Visits from Canadian politicians are rare. Between 2007 and 2017, the most important Chinese leaders made 79 visits to 43 African countries, while under the Harper and Trudeau governments, there were only ten visits for the same period. China, India, Germany and Turkey deploy thousands of peacekeepers to UN missions to ensure stability in certain areas of Africa and Canada…about thirty.
This indifference to the African continent has diplomatic and economic consequences. Canada has twice failed to be elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, with African votes failing. While Canadian mining companies are well established on the continent, manufacturers and agricultural producers are struggling to develop new markets due to a lack of government support.
Faced with this situation, the Canadian Business Council has sounded the alarm. And in a report released last year, he called for Ottawa to take a serious look at Africa. For the council, the government’s goal of “making Canada a globally interconnected economy by increasing foreign exports by 50% by 2025” can only be achieved by developing a strategy towards this continent. Currently, trade between Canada and Africa is underperforming. Thus, “while Canada more than tripled its exports to Africa between 2001 and 2018, India tripled these exports by 10 and China by 17,” the board writes.
The council’s message seemed to have been heard, but in great shame. During the September elections, the Liberals and Conservatives made some proposals to strengthen the relationship between Canada and Africa.
Until the early 2000s, the Canadian presence in Africa was a tangible and noticeable fact. Canadian missionaries, aid workers, peacekeepers, diplomats, and investors formed a dynamic network and enabled Canada to multiply its influence on the international stage. This presence declined as Canada further developed its relations with Latin America and the Indo-Pacific region. It was a logical choice given its geographical location and the economic growth of these two regions.
The situation has changed and Africa has become the horizon of many powers. Can Canada find a place there? Anyway, Africans think so.
There is still a great deal of sympathy among them for Canada, as evidenced by a recent survey by Emaar. Emaar polled opinion leaders in 12 African countries that comprise nearly 60% of the continent’s population. When asked which non-African countries you have the best picture of, Canada came in third after the United States and Germany, and France at seventh. On the issue of the continent’s most beneficial foreign partners, Canada is second only to Germany, and France is 11th.
This enthusiasm for Canada manifests itself at a time when France’s existence is at odds and when Chinese trade and financial practices arouse mistrust. So it opens up space for Canadians. Ottawa will still need to chart its own foreign policy in which Africa will find its place. This continent, we have a past there, we can have a future.
* Jocelyn Colon was Political Adviser to the Secretary of State in 2016-2017. I just posted Canada is looking for an international identity.
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