First let’s assume China’s cooperation with Africa is a mutual beneficiary relationship. In other words, as much Africa needs China; China also needs Africa. If China has realized many years ago that it needs Africa, is there something Canada is missing here? Theoretically Canada could play a significant role in Africa, given the historical context of Canada-Africa relationship. However Canada’s Africa Policy has been criticized by academics and policy makers. One of such books is ‘Canada Among Nations 2013’ which states “…Canada has never had a clear, coherent and overarching African policy.” This book also points out that Canada’s foreign policy is dominated by other policies, so issues like African policy become marginalized.
Considering the increasing interest among experts who favour more Canada-Africa relationship, and the concerns among experts who are skeptical about China’s “pro-commercial” model, Canada can take a “pro-development” approach in Africa. This does not necessarily mean there would not be any economic benefits; the Chinese already proved that Africa is a growing market to explore. Considering that five key areas of focus are identified here for Canada.
Increasing Diplomatic Relationship
Dr. Robert Rotberg of Carleton University has stated in his new book “Africa Emerges” that visionary leaders (such as Nelson Mandela) are needed to improve the conditions in Africa. Of course Canada cannot produce leaders for Africa but it can help African leaders develop various leadership skills; as well, Canada can stand beside visionary African leaders when needed. For instance, if African leaders need support to raise their voices against unfair trade agreements, Canada could support them in WTO and other international organizations. A stronger Canada-Africa diplomatic relationship could send signals to the pro-commercial counterparts that these African governments have other friends and allies who are committed to the development of African countries. It may also force other countries to change their current approach of exploiting African resources.
Supporting “African Renaissance”
George Ayittey in his book “Africa Unchained” emphasized why African countries need to develop infrastructure and the agricultural sector, although current policies and foreign involvements in these countries do not reflect to his arguments. Canada can assist in strengthening local institutions, developing more entrepreneurial skills and capacity building. Reforms that are internally generated can lead to “African Renaissance”. Although, since 1970, Canada has been supporting Africa in improving research capacity, consistency in program delivery is equally needed.
Increasing Development Assistance
According to Paul Collier (2007), foreign aid alone is unlikely to solve the problems of the “bottom billion” countries (Africa along with some other countries) which often lack trade opportunities and thus are ignored by commercial interest seeking countries. Collier also thinks that aid has become politicized and the aid delivery mechanism is often dysfunctional. Many other experts, however, find this is the only instrument that can support the governments of poor landlocked countries in Africa that have minimum resources to strengthen their economies. In the past Canada often chose the latter policy.
Canada provided more Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa than any other region from 1980 to 2011, with the exception of 2005. Stephen Brown of University of Ottawa (2013) has criticized Canada’s aid policy to Africa by pointing out that it “does not follow a grand strategy.” Increasing aid may be a difficult policy to implement under the present condition, but increased amount of assistance (coherent and well-targeted) is required to make a significant contribution to the economic development of many African countries. This assistance could help African countries to strengthen their Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and export industries which could ensure better trade deals/agreements for Africa.
Increasing Trade Relationship
A quick look at Canada’s trading pattern reveals that the bulk of its trade is with the US and the NAFTA countries, which is rational and makes perfect socio-economic sense. In case of imports, Canada has a strong trade relationship with an African country, Algeria, which comprised 1.8% of its total imports (mainly mineral and natural resources) in 2008. This can be interpreted as, like China/BRIC, Canada is also focusing on the energy sector while trading with African countries. Africa needs product diversification and better terms of trade in resource trade and Canada can help by evaluating its own approach. More bilateral trade agreements between Canada and emerging African countries can be a good place to start. One particular area that can be given importance is fairtrade in agricultural sector especially in coffee production.
Increasing Investment in Africa
Africa is a continent that has shown tremendous amount of growth potential in recent years. Victoria Schorr and Paul Hitschfeld (2013) find an erroneous perception among many Canadian businessmen that Africa does not offer profitable investment opportunity. Also, the dependency on investment in the mining industry is aligned with Canada’s domestic investment policies. As recent studies show that Canada is seeking diversity in investment, Africa can provide an interesting component of the investment basket along with the EU, and South Asia.
In summary, it is high time Canada as well as other pro-development countries increase the efforts to make a stronger diplomatic, as well as, trade, investment, and development relationship with Africa. The sooner it is done, the better for Canada and for Africa.