French-speaking Africa sees increase in Canadian aid

“Canadians have a long and proud history of supporting development work in African countries,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper. On October 24, Harper announced, at a summit of Francophone nations in Montreux, Switzerland, that Canada would be donating a further 43.4 million dollars in aid to French-speaking African countries. According to the Canadian government, the money will be spent in order to achieve a large variety of goals, which include resolving hunger issues and preventing children from entering the sex trade. It was announced that this funding is an extension of the previous 1.1 billion dollars of new funding that Canada announced in June, that will go towards the Muskoka Initiative.

“Canadians have a long and proud history of supporting development of Francophone countries,” says Harper in the official press release. However, it is only recently that Canada has started to increase its aid to Africa. At the G8 Summit for 2004 and 2005, the Canadian government promised to double its funding to Africa by 2011. So far, they have achieved their total goal of donating 5 billion dollars to African countries. The main priority of this funding is towards the Muskoka Initiative, a program that aims to improve the lives of women and children in impoverished nations. Specifically, the Muskoka Initiative intends to use at least 80 per cent of its funding to prevent sexual violence and abolish starvation and malnutrition among African women and their children.

However, many Canadians are wondering why Francophone countries in Africa take priority over other impoverished nations.

In May, a representative from the Bloc Quebecois complained to the Globe and Mail, saying, “On Feb. 23, 2009, the Conservative government withdrew several African countries – most of which are members of the Francophonie – from their list of priority countries for development aid. The Bloc Québécois calls on the federal government to reverse its decision.”

“Quebec is always an important issue, and the Prime Minister always wants to make gains with the Québécois,” says Ed LaValle, Political Science professor at Capilano University. “Not only do they want to look good to the Francophonie community, but to the immigrants from French-speaking countries.” However, he goes on to say, “is Quebec really the significant factor in the government’s decision to send more funding to Francophone countries? Not really.”

While this funding to French-speaking nations is being advertised as new aid, it is, in reality, part of the 1.1 billion dollars that the Conservative government promised it would be donated towards Africa in June 2010. “The Tories have been focusing on targeted funding, not general funding. Getting a straight answer from them is difficult, and tracing the money is complex,” says LaValle. This results in a foreign aid policy that is “not really very clear.”

It is quite important to note that the increase of Canadian aid to Africa may have been influenced by the generally negative reception to Canada by many African countries. For example, Canada’s loss of a seat on the United Nations Security Council was apparently due to most African ambassadors in opposition to a Canadian ambassador on the council. This was shocking, as Canada has had a seat on the Security Council every year since the founding of the United Nations in 1948. Many ambassadors on the board were unimpressed with Canada’s lack of aid to Africa. African ambassadors in particular expressed their distaste with Canadian views on things such as aid to Africa and Canadian funding cuts to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. While Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon blamed Canada’s exclusion from the Security Council on comments Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition, had made questioning whether Canada had a right to a seat on the council, many ambassadors claimed that they had not been influenced by the Liberal leader’s comments. One ambassador said he had not even heard of Ignatieff.

The real motives behind the Canadian government’s specific focus on Francophone countries in Africa is still unconfirmed, although they are making it clear that the money will be donated to a large variety of causes. These causes include forest protection in Congo, water management in Niger, and agricultural assistance in Senegal. While the Canadian government is clearly trying to make advances within their reputation in Africa, they have a long way to go.

“If the policy was successful, G8 and double aid, why would most African states not vote Canada onto the Security Council? Maybe because the aid policy is so messy,” says LaValle.

//Katie Shore

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