World

Breaking the silence barrier

Julianne Labreche August 6 1979
World

Breaking the silence barrier

Julianne Labreche August 6 1979

Breaking the silence barrier

World

Early last Friday when Prime Minister Joe Clark boarded the Boeing 707 jet that would take him deep into the belly of black Africa, he was still feeling the effects of several shots in the arm—both literally and figuratively. Only recently, Clark's arms, along with other, more private parts of his anatomy, had been shot full of vaccine to ward off tropical diseases. The other much-needed shot in the arm was provided by the second chance, in less than a month, for the rookie prime minister to make an impact on the international scene. This time, Clark was off to the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka, Zambia, to help deal, above all, with the thorny question of recognition for Zimbabwe Rhodesia.

That issue is sure to plague Clark through the duration of his two-week, fournation tour—the first-ever official visit by

any Canadian prime minister to Africa. For years now, the Canadian government has preferred to stay on the sidelines, going along with UN sanctions while Britain and the United States take the lead.

This week, when Clark and External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald meet with the Commonwealth heads of state, there will be a chance for Canada to step outside its silence. As MacDonald says> “There may be a very crucial role for Canada to play."

Mainly, Clark and his team will be able to act as mediators between the new British government of Margaret Thatcher, who is hinting that the time has come to recognize the newly elected Rhodesian government, o and black African and Third World countries in the Commonwealth, which insist 2 that the government still goes too far in protecting the privileged status of whites. During a briefing in Ottawa last week, Clark’s officials emphasized that the Canadian view is that much progress still remains to be made in achieving black majority rule in Zimbabwe Rhodesia before ending international sanctions against it.

Clark’s best opportunity for promoting a compromise solution to the problem will come during a weekend stay of the world leaders at Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda’s state mansion where, as one external affairs official put it, "We’ll just have to play it as it comes.” Security during the eight-day conference will be kept tight. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s government in Zimbabwe Rhodesia has refused to rule out the possibility of an attack against guerrillas on Zambian soil during

the meeting. One such attack occurred when Clark's aides visited Zambia about a month ago, preparing for his arrival. A senior guerrilla leader's house, just outside Lusaka, was burned down by Rhodesian forces. Heat-seeking missiles fired from guerrilla bases are another danger and precautions have already been made so that Queen Elizabeth’s jet doesn’t fly over any of the guerrilla camps.

Clark's state visits to Cameroon, Tanzania and Kenya are sure to touch on relations with the Muzorewa government. In Cameroon, Clark is to be driven in a motorcade down streets decorated with large banners flashing his portrait. Later, he plans to attend a mass celebrated by Canadian Paul-Emile Cardinal Léger, who has been working with lepers and crippled children in Africa for 12 years (to prepare, Clark is currently reading Léger’s biography). He is also scheduled to meet privately with Cameroon's President Ahmadou Ahidjo, a respected statesman who has ruled his country with a steel fist since independence in 1960. Though not a sports enthusiast, Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer,

are set to attend the soccer finals, an event that one Clark aide calls "the Cameroon version of the Grey Cup.”

Later, in Tanzania, Clark is to meet with President Julius Nyerere, a friend of Opposition Leader Pierre Trudeau. More Canadian aid money is spent in that country than any other in Africa (some $150 million in the next five years will go into railways and rural development) and Clark plans to visit several Canadian International Development Agency projects before flying on for a short visit to Kenya.

In getting ready for the African trip, Clark has been reading late into the night for two weeks now, poring over five thick briefing books on what can be expected during his 17-day tour. But not even the best briefing can prepare him for the laid-back African lifestyle, where Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will,” is the norm. It was an ominous wind that blew in, therefore, for the 37 Canadian journalists travelling with the prime minister, when word leaked out that during the advance trip Clark’s own aide had his luggage lost for more than a week Julianne Labreche