Canada’s Foreign Minister, Stéphane Dion, made his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa earlier this month.
He visited Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Minister Dion reflects with FORTUNE reporter, Samuel Getachew, on his visit to each country, why the one-year-old Justin Trudeau government will continue to be engaged on the continent, on human rights, trade and aid, and what he thinks are the biggest challenges in Africa.
Q:You made your first visit to Africa as Foreign Minister. What were some of the highlights?
In Abuja, I co-chaired the 5th Canada-Nigeria Binational Conference, with Nigerian Foreign Minister Onyeama.
During the conference, we discussed regional and global issues facing Africa, including security and counterterrorism, development and governance, immigration, and trade and investment.
While in Nairobi, I discussed a broad range of shared interests with President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Monica Kathina Juma. We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Aga Khan Council on co-operation during emergencies – it was a highlight for me to build on the longstanding relationship between Canada and the Aga Khan Council.
The Government of Canada announced 19.1 million dollars to improve the technical and vocational education training system, so young Kenyans have the tools they need to access several demand-driven economic sectors.
In Addis Abeba, I met Prime Minister Hailemariam and announced five million dollars in new support for the African Union Commission (AUC). This is to help advance African priorities in empowering the most vulnerable, including women and girls, good governance, renewable energy, and intra-African trade. The AU is, more than ever, an essential organisation and a key interlocutor for Canada. Through our engagement with it, we continue to help empower citizens of this continent to lead their own development.
I raised the importance of continued African participation in the International Criminal Court. Canada was deeply saddened to learn of South Africa, Burundi and Gambia’s plans to withdraw. We believe that engaging African partners on this issue – including the many that support the ICC – is essential to strengthening the ICC and ensuring it continues to respond to the needs of victims of serious international crimes on behalf of the international community.
Q: There is a new engagement with Africa with the Trudeau government. What are some of the areas we should expect Canada to play a role?
There are a number of areas where we can work with and support African states and organisations to make a difference. These include the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable; empowering women, girls, and youth; building sustainable peace; promoting inclusion; accountability; respect for human rights and combating climate change.
Q: Some of the areas where we see a big improvement on the continent is in trade. Is there a mechanism to promote Canadian investors to take advantage of the trade opportunities in Africa?
Sub-Saharan Africa is among the fastest growing markets in the world. With a youthful population projected to reach 25% of the world’s population by mid-century, there is great potential for increased commercial engagement.
We promote trade and investment abroad through our Trade Commissioner Service. They work with regional trade offices across Canada, supported by Global Affairs Canada, Export Development Canada, the Canadian Commercial Corporation and business associations. Canada’s 14 trade offices in Sub-Saharan Africa support more than 1,300 Canadian companies active in the region.
In addition, Canada participates in key Africa-focused trade shows, including the Mining Indaba and the Africa Energy Forum, bringing together Canadian and African businesses and African government officials to foster trade and investment.
Q: In Ethiopia, you highlighted the need to promote democracy and human rights in the country. How do you think Canada can play a role in achieving these principles?
Timely and significant reforms are needed for Ethiopians to feel heard and believe that their government is meaningfully addressing issues around good governance, corruption, land management, public consultations, the right to free speech and other human rights.
Canada stands ready to support Ethiopia in these efforts.
We continue to encourage the Ethiopian government to release the report prepared by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on the situation of unrest, and any similar future reports. This would send a constructive and encouraging signal to the Ethiopian people.
Q: You had an audience with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. What did you discuss with him?
During my meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam, I underscored my concern with the state of emergency and urged restraint, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and necessary reforms in support of the country’s growth and prosperity agenda, particularly for the benefit of youth.
I stressed the importance of engaging the opposition, civil society, youth and independent media in meaningful dialogue and the benefits of doing so as early as possible.
I reiterated that Canada stands ready to support Ethiopia in this process.
We also discussed Ethiopia’s key role in Africa. A peaceful and stable Ethiopia is essential to the stability and prosperity of the Horn of Africa, and the broader region. This is demonstrated by Ethiopia’s essential hosting of refugees, and efforts to fight poverty and improve disaster management. In addition, we addressed potential trade and investment opportunities between our countries.
Q: Ethiopia receives much foreign aid from the Canadian government. There are many critics who question the value of aid in Africa. Is aid still a good approach to help a country become self-sufficient?
Ethiopia has high poverty, low food security, poor status and well-being for women. In spite of these challenges, Ethiopia has made important development strides. National programmes, such as the Productive Safety Net Programme, are addressing food insecurity and other development challenges. Poverty rates have fallen, and the country has experienced relatively high economic growth in recent years.
Ethiopia’s continued investment in programmes to meet household food needs, and build resilience and productive capacity are needed to increase food security. An increased focus on diversified economic growth, and the participation of women and youth, is also key to social and economic progress.
Aid from donor countries can contribute to countries becoming self-sufficient over the long term, especially when it is delivered in an effective way. Canada’s development assistance in Ethiopia helps alleviate suffering and improves the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable. Our assistance improves food security, agriculture and nutrition, and the building of a better future for Ethiopians.
Canada provides funding to international, multilateral and Canadian organisations. We have robust mechanisms in delivering assistance to ensure it reaches those for whom it is intended, and to ensure it is used for the intended purposes.
Q: Canadian diplomats and (past) foreign ministers have made their mark in the world. Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for peacekeeping, while Lloyd Axworthy promoted a world free of landmines and Joe Clark helped end Apartheid in South Africa. In a decade from now, how do you want to be remembered as Canada’s Foreign Minister?
I will leave that to the historians. I am focused on the pressing needs of today, on engaging the world to tackle them and on improving the lives of those most affected.
Q: You are one of Canada’s noted Environment Ministers and currently Chair of the government’s committee on the environment and climate change. Many countries in Africa are still facing serious environmental challenges in climate change and pollution. Do you see any role for Canada to help them meet their targets?
We recognise the challenges Africa faces in terms of pollution, water scarcity and climate change. We are concerned about how it can negatively impact the security, peace, health and livelihoods of so many Africans, and ultimately all of us. We support many African initiatives promoting a transition toward a greener and cleaner economy in Africa. As a part of Canada’s 2.65-billion-dollar commitment to climate change action in developing countries, Canada announced a 150-million-dollar contribution to the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), along with other G7 members.
We also announced a contribution of 50 million dollars to the G7 Initiative on Climate Risk Insurance to help people in developing countries face the economic consequences of more intense and frequent natural catastrophes. This is the greatest challenge of our generation, but it’s a challenge that also carries great economic opportunity.
Many African countries have set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and we will work with and support them, through the many cooperation mechanisms available to us.
Canada has supported infrastructure development, including green energy infrastructure, in Africa. Canada was an early donor and leader, with 64 million dollars in funding since 2004 to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility and the African Water Facility. More than a quarter of NEPAD’s Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility was directed towards the energy sector.
Q: John McKay, your colleague in the Liberal caucus, has been unsuccessfully pushing a bill through Parliament that the Stephen Harper government did not support, which, according to him, is intended to promote “environmental best practices and to ensure the protection and promotion of international human rights standard in respect of the mining, oil or gas activities of Canadian corporation in developing countries”. With a healthy majority Liberal government, is there a prospect for the bill to be introduced in the house once again?
The Government of Canada is assessing Canada’s current corporate social responsibility approach and identifying ways to strengthen it, including by actively listening to civil society and companies operating abroad.
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