With an emotional hug of greeting and warm smiles, the two men bore the air of old and comfortable acquaintances. In fact, until last week, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa’s African National Congress, had met each other only once. But after they had lunch together last Thursday in a private hotel room in Harare, Zimbabwe, both men were looking more to the future than to the past. As leaders from the 50-nation Commonwealth organization gathered for their biennial conference, Mulroney and Mandela said that they were awaiting the end of one era in South Africa—and the start of another. Said Mulroney, who has made support for Mandela, and opposition to apartheid, cornerstones of his international policy: “The next time the Commonwealth members meet, it is possible that conditions in South Africa may allow it to rejoin us.” Added Mandela: “I am full of encouragement for our goals.”
For Mulroney, still beleaguered and unpopular at home, and Mandela, who told reporters that his anti-apartheid fight in South Africa faces “violence and extreme opposition,” the Commonwealth conference provided each with some much-desired encouragement. Leaders said that they would gradually resume cultural exchanges and air links with South Africa to encourage its transition to nonracial democracy. But after two days of informal meetings with several leaders, Mandela left Harare with a promise that the Commonwealth group will maintain economic sanctions, an embargo on arms sales and South Africa’s exclusion from most world organizations until Pretoria fully repeals its apartheid policies. For his part, Mulroney won praise for Canada’s stand on South African issues and his increasingly aggressive stance on human rights. Said Mandela: “Prime Minister Mulroney has given us strength and hope.”
Still, it also became clear that the Commonwealth leaders were confronting a series of new challenges and divisions. Among them: the increasing disparity between industrialized and developing countries, and a new push to introduce Western-style democracy to one-party states. But the most heated topic of debate was an assertion by both Britain and Canada that they will increasingly link future foreign aid for poorer countries to their human rights records. Said British Prime Minister John Major: “The bedrock of what we do must be the general application of democracy and human rights.” Added Mulroney: “Canada will not subsidize repression and the stifling of democracy.”
That stance is particularly significant because of the spotty human rights record of many Commonwealth countries and the crucial role that Canada and Britain play in their funding. In recent years, London-based Amnesty International has criticized 34 Commonwealth nations for their human rights performances. Currently, 15 member nations are one-party states. At the same time, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the biggest donors of foreign aid to other Commonwealth members.
Last year, Canada provided $893 million in official development assistance to Commonwealth countries, much of it to African nations. Canadian officials said that they are unlikely to reduce present aid levels to countries with poor human rights records because, said a Mulroney aide, “you cannot go bailing out of existing commitments when they are only partly finished.” As well, officials said, they already take human rights issues into account in determining aid. But Mulroney said that in the future, “We shall increasingly be channelling our development assistance with an eye to respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.” Despite the careful diplomatic tone of the
meeting, that assertion drew veiled criticism from some other leaders— particularly those whose countries could be directly affected. One such leader is Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, whose country now receives $36 million in annual aid from Canada.
Moi, a staunch advocate of singleparty systems since his election in 1979, has said that Kenyan advocates of multiparty democracy should be “hunted down like rats.” Shortly after Mulroney made his remarks in a closed session with other leaders, Moi approached him during a coffee break. Mulroney would not discuss the tone of his conversation with the Kenyan president. But he said of Moi: “He heard my remarks and he understood my message clearly.”
In fact, Moi was not the only leader to express alarm. In a speech shortly after Mulroney’s address, Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao said that Commonwealth countries “should not preoccupy themselves with democracy.” Instead, he said, they should concentrate their efforts on helping backward countries develop their economies. Earlier, the leader of the host country, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, said after a preconference meeting with Mulroney that he opposed the linking of human rights with financial aid because “money cannot create values.”
But Mugabe, who after 11 years in power has only recently—and grudg-
ingly—approved the establishment of multiparty democracy, also has reason for concern. His government, which receives $20 million in annual aid from Canada, is regarded as one of the more progressive regimes in southern Africa. Still, it has been repeatedly cited for human rights violations. In one graphic instance, Zimbabwe riot police in Harare wielded truncheons and lobbed canisters of tear gas last week as they broke up a previously peaceful demonstration of about 2,000 university students protesting in support of human rights and academic freedom. Said one Canadian official: “We have to make clear that this sort of thing is no longer acceptable.”
Publicly, Mulroney and other Canadian officials say that Canada’s aggressive position is simply a continuation of foreign policies that the Prime Minister has espoused since his election in 1984. But privately, they acknowledged that a combination of national and international changes has lent new weight to their tone. Canada, like other Western countries, faces a barrage of requests for financial assistance to rebuild the shattered economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union since the fall of communism there. As well, many underdeveloped countries had previously played Western powers and Moscow off against each other in order to extract more aid from both sides. Now, with the Soviet Union slashing its foreign-aid programs, Western countries are
setting much tougher conditions for their assistance.
That clearly worries many officials in the Third World. An editorial in the Zimbabwean government-owned daily newspaper, The Herald, last week declared: “Many in developing countries lament the loss of a valued ally. At the United Nations, the Soviet Union acted as a check on the United States’ drive for domination, and the Soviet veto was often used in favor of developing countries.”
Canadian officials acknowledged that the new policy carries with it some difficult dilemmas. For one, they must balance any cutbacks in aid between the wish to punish an offending government and the desire to get aid to the people who need it most. As well, officials say, even if a regime does not appear democratic by Western standards, Canada must consider the degree of improvement or change that the regime has made or pledges to make.
But some advisers to Mulroney concede that they made a significant error in their decision to have the Prime Minister visit Gabon just before the beginning of the Commonwealth meeting. Mulroney aides said that they decided to make the trip because many Canadian businesses—particularly from Quebec—have significant interests in the west-central African country, which is French-speaking. As well, they said, Gabonese President Omar Bongo, who has previously crushed political opposition
At the Commonwealth conference, Mulroney and other members of the Canadian delegation often displayed an aggressive manner and approach that contrasted sharply with the more reserved role the Canadian representatives have tended to adopt when attending meetings of NATO and the Group of Seven industrialized countries. In both those international settings, Canada plays a relative-
ruthlessly, is now preparing to allow a multiparty system. But Mulroney’s advisers acknowledged that the Prime Minister’s visit to the capital of Libreville, where he announced $30 million in grants and loans to Gabon, had attracted widespread media criticism because of the heavy Gabonese military presence and because of the striking contrast between the opulent lifestyle of President Bongo, who lives in a residence larger than Buckingham Palace, and the grinding poverty of most Gabonese citizens.
ly junior role. But in the Commonwealth, said one official,
“We have the muscle and we like to use it.”
That is a message that seems certain to be heard with increasing frequency in the future. Canadian officials said last week that the principle of not interfering in other nations’ internal affairs, which has traditionally been a key element of Ottawa diplomacy, is no longer valid. Said one official, on condition of anonymity: “Since the end of the Cold War, we are in a new and interactive age.” And, said a blunt Mulroney, if less-developed countries choose not to conform to Canada’s notions of democracy but still seek aid, “they will be waiting a long, long time.” As Canada tries to define its role amid changing global politics, Mulroney has clearly decided that tough talk provides the quickest route to a kinder, gentler world order.
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