CANADA

Getting away from it all

MICHAEL ROSE February 2 1987
CANADA

Getting away from it all

MICHAEL ROSE February 2 1987

Getting away from it all

CANADA

The trip was a response to long-standing invitations from African leaders. But in the wake of André Bissonnette’s sudden resignation from the cabinet (page 14), Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s scheduled visit to Zimbabwe and Senegal this week may also provide welcome relief from domestic pressures. Indeed, Mulroney’s advisers sought to avoid the criticism that followed his costly official visit to Asia last May by limiting the African trip to just 10 days and restricting the staff travelling with the Prime Minister to about two dozen.

Said one official in the Prime Minister’s Office:

“We’re hoping the trip will take some of the other things off the front page, but that’s not up to us.”

Planners set three main objectives for Mulroney’s first official visit to Africa, which was to begin Tuesday after a brief stop in Rome for meetings with Pope John Paul lí and Italian government leaders.

The Prime Minister expected to get a firsthand look at the severe economic problems facing the continent and to visit several Canadian-financed aid projects. In addition, he was scheduled to hold talks with leaders of the southern African nations of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana at a meeting at Victoria Falls hosted by Zimbabwe’s prime minister, Robert Mugabe. And he will meet the heads of the west African countries of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. Those meetings will help Mulroney prepare for the 1987 Commonwealth and francophone summits—both scheduled to be held in Canada this fall. But organizers said the most important part of the trip would be talks about dismantling the apartheid system in South Africa.

Mulroney has played a key role in the international debate over South Africa. At the 1985 Commonwealth summit in Nassau, Mulroney and Indian Prime

Minister Rajiv Gandhi persuaded a reluctant British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—a steadfast opponent of sanctions—to allow a delegation of eminent persons to help set a deadline for dismantling Pretoria’s system of racial segregation. And last summer, at a meeting of seven Commonwealth heads of government in London, Mulroney

tried unsuccessfully to persuade Thatcher to endorse stiffer sanctions.

Mulroney’s trip to the region bordering on South Africa could give a further boost to his reputation as a foe of apartheid. Roger Young, acting director of the Ottawa-based North-South Institute, said that the visit “will reinforce the view that Canada is prepared to support action against South Africa.”

Still, the Prime Minister did not plan to announce any new Canadian initiatives to build pressure directly on South Africa. Senior government officials stressed that the focus would be on

the “more positive” issue of financial support for the so-called frontline states of southern Africa, which would suffer if Pretoria decided to retaliate against them for international sanctions. The Prime Minister was scheduled to announce a $49-million commitment by Canada to help build a 340-km highvoltage power line linking Botswana with hydroelectric stations in Zimbabwe and Zambia. The project will reduce the region’s dependence on South African power. Said one Canadian official: “Sanctions are always seen as more dramatic, but other measures can be effective as well.”

Officials denied reports that Mulroney would announce a new fund to protect the frontline states. But one senior Mulroney aide said that Ottawa would probably improve on its 1984 commitment to provide $125 million over five years to the South African Development Co-ordination Conference — which represents the nine frontline states—when the organization meets Feb. 4 to 6 in Botswana.

Even without its involvement in the South Africa issue, Canada’s important role in Africa as an aid donor would have ensured an enthusiastic 5 welcome for Mulroney. ^ Canada’s total aid contri| bution to African develop3 ment in the current fiscal year —$900 millionplaced it among the top 10 donor nations. As well, Canada can deal equally effectively with both francophone and anglophone African nations, and it does not carry the heavy political baggage of being a former colonial power. Said the North-South Institute’s Young: “It’s the one region of the world where Canada’s reputation and influence are disproportionately large.” For Mulroney, the Africa trip was a chance to translate that influence into progress—and perhaps distract attention from his mounting problems at home.

— MICHAEL ROSE in Ottawa