In parts of Africa, Jean Chrétien and Canada can do no wrong. For many Nigerians, Canada is a midwife to democracy because of its uncompromising stance against the military dictatorship that hanged my father and executed and imprisoned scores of pro-democracy activists between 1993 and 1999. Similar sentiments are echoed in South Africa, where many activists still remember Pierre Trudeau’s diplomatic support in the long struggle against apartheid. Canada was also involved in ending the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1999, and helped broker a peace deal earlier this year in Angola.
Now, on June 26-27, Chrétien will host the G8 meeting at Kananaskis, Alta., with one primary goal: to convince the G8 to adopt a sweeping economic plan that could lift Africa out of poverty. “The eyes of millions of Africans,” says President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, “will be looking to Kananaskis.”
During a nine-day tour of Africa this spring, the Prime Minister visited 16 African leaders to discuss what some are dubbing “a Marshall Plan for Africa”—in reference to the billions of dollars the United States pumped into Europe to rebuild the shattered continent following the Second World War. The plan, known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Devel-
opment, was put together over the last four years by South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. Mbeki and Obasanjo outlined the NEPAD plan at the G8 summit in Genoa last year, where they issued a challenge to Africans to reverse decades of decline by taking control of their own economic destiny.
The plan calls for a triangular partnership between government, business and civil society in Africa to promote democracy and invest in agriculture, information technology, health and education. The G8 countries gave Africa nearly $ 10 billion in economic aid in 2000, and if
At the G8 summit, Chrétien will be pushing a plan that would give more aid and investment to countries promoting democracy and human rights
Chrétien can convince the G8 leadership to spend more, that figure may jump dramatically. To make that funding more effective, NEPAD’s architects want to change how the money is delivered. In the future it would only go to countries that are democratic, promote human rights and enact Western-style laws—so-called “good governance” behind which corporations can safely operate. “Countries where they foster democratic rule,” said Chrétien in a speech in New York in April, “will be rewarded with enhanced aid and investment.” (Africa received less than one per cent of the total of global foreign direct investment last year, and the amount has been falling.)
While the average African knows little if anything about NEPAD, most of Africa’s leaders are determined to press ahead, calling for international corporations to invest more in their countries. “NEPAD is a program designed, conceived and planned by African leaders of the highest political level and for the first time meant to be executed by Africans,” says Nigeria’s Obasanjo. He bluntly sums up how it will be implemented: “It’s carrot, carrot, carrot and stick.”
But choosing between countries run by democrats or dictators won’t be easy, as the Zimbabwean crisis showed. Some observers viewed President Robert Mugabe’s controversial re-election in March as an ex-
ample of the kind of obstacles Africa still faces. Many African countries concluded that the election had been held fairly, but Western governments, including Canada, were highly critical of Mugabe’s heavyhanded tactics. So would Zimbabwe receive G8 economic aid? Much of Africa has also been destabilized by war and civil unrest, further complicating decisions surrounding which countries should receive aid. And during Chrétiens visit to Africa he received a grim lesson when Nigeria’s trigger-happy police shot at his media entourage. Nothing could have better illustrated the reality of Africa, where the bestlaid plans are often derailed in chaos.
Chrétien later brushed off the shooting, and remains resolved to help Africa at Kananaskis. But the problems that have to be overcome seem almost insurmountable. One African in five is affected by an armed conflict or civil war; 260 million of the 659 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than one dollar a day; life expectancy in the region is 47 years, Cornpared to 79 in Canada. Of the 40 million people worldwide infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, more than twothirds live in Africa. And so it goes, a devastating list of statistics that add up to a grim prognosis. “This is a continent of 800 million people that is regressing rather than progressing,” said Chrétien on May 14 after meeting with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the summit. “We have to make sure they come back as part of the global situation and make a contribution to growth in the world.”
To help prepare the ground for the G8 meeting, Chrétien appointed Canada’s ambassador to Italy, Robert Fowler, as his personal representative for the G8 summit and Africa. Fowler, a former ambassador to the United Nations who is described as Chrétiens “eyes and ears” for Africa, is an interesting choice as Canadas Sherpa—as the personal representatives of G8 leaders are known. He began his working life as an English teacher at the National University of Rwanda and was
instrumental in brokering a peace agreement in Angola in 1999 when he was UN ambassador.
Fowler was at Genoa last year when the G8 and a group of African leaders led by Mbeki agreed to consider implementing the NEPAD plan. A keen amateur photographer, Fowler took pictures of the protests at the meetings, in which one demonstrator died and more than 800 were arrested. His observations at Genoa sensitized him to the anti-globalization movement that has been gaining critical
mass around the world—and now has NEPAD in its sights. There have been a number of fix-Africa programs in the past, Fowler admits, but he says this one might work because it is being proposed by Africans themselves and therefore may gain wider acceptance. But the protestors argue that NEPAD is a Trojan Horse designed to aid Western corporations in their continuing exploitation of the continent, and not the African people.
In fact, when discussing Africa, Chrétien does at times appear to be trumpeting the forces of globalization being advanced by the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. “Private investment must be the engine of African growth,” he said during his speech in New York City. “And freer trade the fuel.” Such
comments are grist to the critics’ mill. The Prime Minister, says John Saul, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, has “chosen to play the dubious role of middleman” in what he describes as a “suspect endeavour” to promote the agenda of the IMF and WTO.
It is a view cautiously shared by James Orbinski, a Saul Rae fellow at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Orbinski, a former international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, feels that Ottawa should direct its focus and its aid agenda to ensure that Canadian programs help the masses of
poor who live in the rural areas of the continent. Doing so, Orbinski suggests, may not help Western corporations but it will ensure that economic aid reaches the most needy people.
Others complain that NEPAD is an elitist program, developed from the top down with little input from ordinary Africans. At the World Social Forum in Brazil earlier this year, South African trade unionist Trevor Ngwane recommended that the forum reject NEPAD until the people of Africa have had a chance to learn more about what he termed the G8’s “neo-liberal” agenda that benefits only the continent’s elite.
Others, including Bayowa Adedeji, a Nigerian human rights activist and veteran journalist, says Africans have to start debat-
ing the issue. “As of now Nigerians don’t know of NEPAD,” says Adedeji, who is temporarily based in Calgary at the invitation of CUSO to discuss the NEPAD agreement with Canadians. “It just seems that a few Africans have forced it down the throat of everybody.”
And to a point, Fowler agrees. “It is absolutely true,” he admits, “that civil society in Africa has not been deeply engaged in NEPAD, but if this was a grassroots initiative we would be saying there is not enough buy-in at senior levels.” Fowler and Canada have clearly been working hard to engage people in dialogue, sponsoring a Canada-
wide consultative process and engaging NGOs and individuals concerned about the continent. The big challenge now is to take that further—into the streets where the plan will have to win the broken hearts and skeptical minds of Africans. And in spite of the criticism, Chrétien has still taken on a huge and worthy challenge. It is an unenviable task, but one that the Prime Minister’s advisers say cannot wait. “There are going to be serious bumps along the way,” says Fowler, “but Africa’s need is desperate—and it is now.” E3
Ken Wiwa is a Toronto-based writer.
Born in Nigeria, he left in 1978.
In 1995 his father, pro-democracy activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed by the country’s military dictatorship.
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