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Canadian Policy in Africa: A Failure of Political Will

Address by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P.

Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont 

Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

Carleton University

Ottawa, ON.

November 29, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you all know, it was hoped that last spring’s foreign policy statement by the Martin government would provide a more critical assessment of how little we actually give in aid, whom we give that aid to, and under what circumstances – i.e. the problematic “ties” with which it is given. We have, indeed, failed in a number of ways.

At the most basic level, we’ve failed to live up to a commitment given almost 40 years ago by Prime Minister Pearson to increase our official development assistance (ODA) to O.7% of our GDP. With our current ODA as a percentage of Gross National Income at about 0.37%, we pale next to countries like Norway and Denmark, who give just under 1% and rising. Virtually all EU countries have now offered to meet the goal within a set period. Paul Martin, whose government was defeated yesterday, has committed up to $18 billion in recent weeks to virtually every bridge and other project he thinks will yield a vote or two, refuses to commit. Bono for one among many is not amused by this failure of will.

What makes this record even more dismal is that Canadians want action on aid to the developing world. The Make Poverty History campaign has ¼ million people signed onto their website across Canada, as well as 700 organizations. This is an important issue for Canadians – so why don’t our politicians recognise this? If any of you have not yet signed on, please do so at

And yet, although an increase and redesign of the way in which we provide aid is greatly needed, one area we don’t address nearly enough is how our national government is currently not carrying its weight on the diplomatic level. This is equally important as it addresses the crucial link between democratization and development.

Value of Democracy

In Africa, as in most places in the developing world, the standard of democracy in any given country normally defines the standard of living for its citizens. In short, the authoritarianism, despotism, and unlimited rule demonstrated by a number of African leaders has done much to harm the lives and dignity of the nationals of their respective countries. Without the freedom to speak out, to write, to protest, and to vote, citizens are denied fora required by genuine democratic processes. 

Today, there are a number of countries in Africa, where the basic standard of living continues to plummet as a direct result of conflict, misrule and corruption. Take Zimbabwe, formerly one of the most stable and economically sound countries on the continent, that had one of the highest Human Development Index ratings in sub-Saharan Africa in 1985, and whose population is now almost entirely dependent on food aid. Economic mismanagement has created severe inflation and catastrophic rates of unemployment, compounded by shortages of basic foodstuffs, fuel and agricultural inputs.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most complex and challenging in Africa today. Political instability, extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and civil warfare, exacerbated by diamonds and myriad local and international players, mostly harmful, continue to hinder the possibility of peace and sustainable livelihoods.

The promised election in the DRC for next year offers hope for change in terms of providing food, water, education etc. for more people. It’s a sign of genuine renewal that this past weekend in Ottawa members of the Congolese community from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa formed a Congress of Congolese Canadians, which will work on, among other things, sending observers to the DRC elections next year.

One major key to Africa’s success generally today lies in changing the systems of trade that established African economies as exploitable and dependent. What good will more aid do, when on any given day Western leaders can decide they don’t want to pay as much for their sugar, rice, or bananas, and lower market prices, devastating entire economies in the developing world. Even assuming the success of the DOHA round of world trade negotiations, according to the World Bank’s own figures, it will lead to a mere $3 per year per citizen of the developing world – just less than a cent a day. More accountability and an integrated international approach are needed. This approach, they argued, should be based on and driven by the existing human rights agreements that most countries have signed.

Speaking as an elected public servant, at least until January 23rd, I think it’s fitting to address Canada’s failures to live up to the diplomatic, security, human rights and development expectations of Canadians and many others.


The Canadian Institute of International Affairs’ (CIIA) report of this past summer, Making a Difference: External Views on Canada’s International Impact notes that since 1989 Canada has made a difference in non-traditional ways: by having produced effective nationalists such as Louise Arbour or Stephen Lewis; by playing an important role in the education of developing countries’ leaders; and by providing a successful, distinct socio-economic model. However, unfortunately this period overall is one of decline, Canada’s performance has deteriorated in three areas, including diplomacy, development, and security.

Canada’s current inaction can be characterized as ‘diplomatic complacency’. We continue to meet with, welcome, and have ‘constructive engagement’ with leaders that condone, and take part in repetitive human rights violations and widespread corruption. This is unacceptable to most. That we continue to trade with such regimes, essentially investing in the same human rights abuses that we are so quick to sign up against in declarations and charters, is hypocritical at best.

Arguments that stopping trade with regimes guilty of widespread human rights abuses will only hurt their already disenfranchised citizens are inconclusive at best. There’s a wealth of recent studies that provide realistic ways in which countries like Canada could better lever their trade relationship and influence within international organizations such as the UN, the World Bank, and the IMF.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Countries like Canada find that our citizens are demanding higher, more accountable levels of corporate and public governance. In the case of many African countries, there are demands for consensus building, anti-corruption and the restoration of public institutions. One of the goals of the next government of Canada should be to find practical ways to create an environment that fosters CSR initiatives among Canadian companies across the world.

In recent years, CSR has become a vital part of a comprehensive approach to business success, particularly in light of recent scandals that have undermined trust in business leadership. Take two Canadian oil companies for example, Arakis and Talisman, in the recovery of oil in South Sudan. Their investments over time provided Khartoum with additional funds to purchase helicopters and other weapons to pursue ethnic cleansing in the South, the Nuba Mountains and Darfur. Like others, I’m dismayed by the attempt by the Martin government to enlist the Bush administration’s assistance to have the US courts dismiss the tort action brought by the Presbyterian church of Sudan and others against Talisman and the Government of Sudan. On the other hand, the Canadian energy company Nexen appears to be a model practitioner of CSR in Yemen and elsewhere.

As global pressures continue to force companies to think deeply about their societal impact, the implementation of CSR will continue to grow. This basic observation holds the key to creating an environment that is hospitable to change and improvement. One way to ensure CSR is through strategies in which both shareholders and other stakeholders benefit from finding a balance between corporate and community interests. Unfortunately, the record of some Canadian companies doing business in Africa has not been what one would hope. At times, the relationship between Canadian businesses and African community is hopelessly one-sided.

Whether it’s environmental activism, consumers exercising their purchasing power to voice concerns over ethically responsible production and trade, or pressure from NGOs and local governments, it is evident that these pressures have changed the nature of the discussion of CSR. It is no longer just a philanthropic, humanist, or environmental debate, but also a discussion of ‘win-win’ business policies.

Democratization and development

The subject of democratization and development is huge, and I will try to speak to it by focusing on a few key areas, namely accountability, commitment to the human rights charter, and strong support for existing civil society groups and pan-African organisations.  

If we’ve learned anything from the last 50 or so years of post- and neo-colonialism in Africa, it is that foreign intervention in Africa has done little to calm the instability and civil conflicts established and/or exacerbated by the colonial powers. It has in many cases increased dependency and failed to invest in the reconstruction of local systems of government and civil society.

Even the Martin government’s own recent policy review has pledged to address Canada’s often irresponsible lack of direction, continuity and focus in dispensing aid over the last few decades. In York University Professor Pablo Idahosa’s words about the review, “While there's much vacuous talk of good governance and capacity building, the real issue is the need to operationalize genuine distributive notions of sustainable democracy and of building up welfare, that is, the quality of democracy, which is NOT the same thing as poverty reduction, which is at best a palliative of localism.”

Let’s hope that that’s one of the goals of Canada’s next government is to stop throwing money, often tied money, to superficial, unsustainable projects in countries whose own governments often work to undermine the efforts, and in many cases feed off of aid revenues and manipulate its distribution to further political party or personal agendas.

In the subcommittee meeting I spoke of earlier, it was questioned why rights charters are not incorporated into development plans, and the linking of rights with responsibilities encouraged, using that as a basis to assess current development programs and trade relations. For example, we could be asking what the linkage is between the right to food and Canada’s trade policies in food and agriculture, thus assessing the impact of our trade, particularly with the South.

Professor Amartya Sen of Cambridge University has published some brilliant theories. Among them is the ‘capability approach’ to development, which argues that poverty is maintained when people are denied access to the resources that would allow them to create prosperous and sustainable communities. This is part of a larger, popular discourse to create a more ‘free’ Africa by liberating it from destructive conditionalities and trade policies.

Supporting, funding, and encouraging African-based solutions is key, as is looking at best practices, both in Africa, and in other areas around the world, for creative solutions. Despite the continuing conflicts in areas of Sudan, Uganda, and the Congo, support for democracy has grown in many areas. Increased freedom of the press and new communications media such as the internet have expanded public access to information, and citizens are now more aware of their basic human rights. According to Freedom House, over the last decade, the number of free democracies in Africa has more than doubled from four to 10 and more than half the countries on the continent are in the transition process. The successful 2002 elections in Kenya and the anti-corruption drive in Zambia underscore this trend.

African Security

In the book Peace In Africa: Towards a Collaborative Security Regime, a group of ten mostly African experts compare security arrangements in Latin America and Africa and argue that the Organization of American States (OAS) offers an applicable model for promoting regional security and development in Africa. They argue that because the OAS relies heavily on democracy and trade to promote peace and security, it has succeeded in emphasizing building confidence in its member states. The OAS institutions, created to manage security concerns and member relations, help provide a plan for a collaborative security effort for the continent.

The Security Council of the AU, founded last year, has a legal framework for resolving disputes among member states. Following in the disappointing footsteps of the OAUs only five peacekeeping efforts in a 40-year history, the obstacles it faces, whether externally imposed or self-inflicted, are great. A limited mandate, a lack of political will among its members, capacity problems, the lack of financial resources, and the chasms endemic to the international political environment all complicate problems.

The editor of Peace In Africa, Shannon Field, believes the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), as the predecessor to the AU, was harmed by its mandate, which barred interventions in the internal affairs of member states. Because the international community is showing an increasing reluctance to undertake peace operations in Africa, it is all the more important that the 2002 constitution of the AU allowed for interventions in order to ward off large-scale human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Sadly, while Field and others thought interventions by the AU security mechanism would prevent future Rwandas, the current catastrophe in Darfur demonstrates that security remains a central problem for the AU.

The role of the AU in promoting regional cooperation and pushing forward economic development is demonstrated by including the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in its framework and taking measures to implement the program as the organization’s creed.

Canada should encourage existing regional strategies and partnerships. With the proper investment and management, the AU can become a powerful, cohesive body in Africa, and a voice of peace, security and development in the region.

Democracy cannot be imposed from the top down. Building a stable democracy requires a firm foundation, nurtured from local and regional civil society groups. The desire for democracy in Africa is there, but what is still lacking is a strong apparatus through which democratic values and ideals can be applied. By lending greater support for interactions between Canadian civil society and African counterparts, Canada could make a significant contribution toward strengthening the capabilities of African civil society to institutionalize democracy.


Let me close with a brief focus on one of what I believe to be a great failure in Canadian policy on Africa: the genocide in Darfur.

Canada and the larger international community's response to the Darfur catastrophe has been to rely on the African Union's (AU) unarmed ceasefire observers and a limited number of AU soldiers – both in reality mandated by the government of Sudan.

The continuing systematic killing and raping of ‘African’ Darfurians is by the Janjaweed militias. Their leader, Musa Hilal, has indicated that the joint goal of his political masters in Khartoum and himself was to “empty [Darfur] of African tribes.” Today, with an estimated 400,000 Darfurians dead of unnatural causes, Mr. Hilal and the Janjaweed still roam freely. There is no escape from one reality: Khartoum’s military regime is escalating the level of violence and insecurity with the clear goal of accelerating destruction of the African population of Darfur.

So why are the African and international communities finding it so difficult to demonstrate effective leadership on the catastrophe in Darfur, let alone a build consensus on the nature of the problem? Despite public concern across this country and much of the world, as well as a series of dire warnings issued by international organizations, it’s truly dismaying to see world leaders averting their eyes to allow another Rwanda or Bosnia to take place.

The inaction is not due to lack of information. There have been numerous reports, articles and statements published begging for action. There have also been two books published: Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide by Gérard Prunier, and Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, by Julie Flint and Alex de Waal – which expertly pick apart the historical context and current problems in Darfur.

In effect, emphasis on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to bring peace; the recognition of the conflict in Sudan as a ‘humanitarian problem’ only; fear of sending peacemakers to conflicts in Africa; and Ottawa’s continued reliance on ‘constructive engagement’ strangles the international community’s duty to intervene.

The approximately one billion of our sisters and brothers who live on the continent of Africa are entitled to the same level of human security from the international community during a crisis as peoples anywhere else. As one Canadian of Sudanese origin put it about the Darfur crisis: “Are Africans not full members of the UN system?” Doesn’t the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle apply to every community which is being brutally attacked by agents of their own government? We simply cannot remain silent partners in genocide.

The conflict in Dafur not only calls for international action, it also presents an opportunity for the AU to learn, to build their capacity, and to become a real force in African peacekeeping. Although on the one hand it is understandable – considering such things as the colonial history and the slave trade – that African governments want to solve African problems, when so many human lives are at stake, must the world not be called into action? Today, it is possible to place thousands of peacekeepers anywhere in the world within days; it is possible to share experience, expertise and equipment; and it is possible to end large-scale atrocities such as Darfur’s. But the will has to exist first.



I think the next two months offer an excellent opportunity to create this will in our politicians. Let’s make it an election issue. The Make Poverty History campaign has between 300 and 1,500 people signed up on their site in every riding across Canada. Let’s use meetings like this to try and get every man and woman running to incorporate the will of Canadians here into their platforms. So write letters, send emails, make phone calls – let’s not let another four years go by without something being done.

Debate about aid to Africa, debt relief and poverty are drawing much media coverage; from pop-culture forums, such as the Live 8, to political ones like the G8. We’ve heard from Bono, Bob Geldof and Tony Blair. Overnight, much of the Western World has become vocal about the fact that most 906 million Africans still live in extreme poverty. Sadly, the only voices we don’t seem to be hearing enough of are those of Africans.

One wonders, for example, what debt reduction will mean to a Rwandan trying to feed her children and heal the scars of her country’s horrific past? Will an aid increase to 0.7% of GNP change the life of Darfurians living under terror in squalid refugee camps?  How are Africans responding to the recent surge of attention and ‘generosity’? And how do any of these measures tackle the greater, more complex and unpalatable problems with the West’s relationship with Africa, such as inequitable trade and peacekeeping?

As we all know, the challenges that much of Africa faces today in democracy and development are great.  So are the challenges many of us here face; as politicians, policy makers, and promoters of democracy, to try to find ways in which Canada can have a more meaningful, coherent, integrated, and in some cases a more constructively critical interaction with African governments, in the hopes that our foreign policy begins to show more transparency and reflects our commitments to human rights, fair trade and peacekeeping.


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