Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Out of Africa

It’s interesting seeing how Canada’s “principled leadership on the world stage” takes shape. One new angle is our apparent diplomatic abandonment of Africa.

From Ze Globe:

If it happens, the closing of the embassies in Africa could be coupled with the opening of new embassies or trade offices in higher-priority regions such as Asia and Latin America. The Harper government has focused much of its attention on the emerging middle-income countries in those two regions, which are seen as more logical trading partners for Canada.

As it is, we don’t even have a consulate in Cape Town – arguably Africa’s most international city, with a thriving blend of cultures, a booming economy, and the most favourable investment climate you could hope for. Canada just isn’t there. It’s like skipping the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. “Well, we thought our athletes might perform better with a bit of shut-eye.”

I’m in Africa three or four times a year with work (so, lemme tell ya, folks), and it seems to me that Cannon’s logic to focus on priority countries in Asia and Latin America comes across like a tragic love triangle. Chasing those who are chasing others.

What does he make of the fact that Asian and Latin American countries themselves are busy increasing their presence in Africa? The Brazilian presence there is extending well beyond the lusophone countries, and Chinese goods, employers, food and even language crop up in the most surprising places. In northern Ghana. In Cape Town. In big places like Nigeria and small places like Lesotho.

Cameroon, for instance. A bilingual country with franco and anglophone sides. Stable, peaceful, well resourced, and a window into francophone Central Africa (where we might have had a peacekeeping role in the DRC if we weren’t wintering in Kandahar and sole-sourcing unusuable fighter jets). It’s a perfectly natural place for Canada to want to engage closely. If we close our embassy there, though, we are closing so many doors it isn’t funny. China’s foreign policy is smart, if ruthlessly so, as evidenced by their heavy and growing presence there.

The Chinese and Brazilians are increasing their muscle in Africa because they see huge opportunities for growth – both economically and diplomatically. Africa’s economic growth in 2011 is pegged for 5%, which actually compares favourably against forecasts for Latin America and G20-hosting Asian tigers like South Korea.

There remains huge gaps in Brazil’s or China’s or other BRICS ability to couple investment with humanitarian and development aid, but they will work towards it to gain influence – all the easier for them when countries like Canada make way.

Ottawa’s recently one-dimensional strategy to “engage the BRICS powers” has merits. It’s very Ignatieffien, actually. But if you want clues as to how and why the amazing, incredible Brazils, Chinas, and Indias of the world are increasing their global influence, you see it in their steady engagement across Africa. Does Cannon think they’re stupid? Or maybe they’re onto something?

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Filed under: Africa, Canada, International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

World asks Canada to talk to hand

And, Canada lost the vote. Or, in Michael Johnson sprinting style, we pulled out before we had the chance to lose.

As I say in the last post, this isn’t so much a lost opportunity to showboat our diplomatic finesse, or compel the Permanent 5 to take our priorities on board. Instead, it’s a reflection of the losses we’ve already chalked up in the past few years.

We don’t have international priorities of any coherence to impress on the Council. We don’t have a recent record of diplomatic finesse. I can’t help but wonder whether cocking-up relations with the UAE so spectacularly on the eve of the vote might have been a straw on the camel’s back here. “Canada can’t hold good faith negotiations with a Gulf State? Canada’s Afghan logistics are what now?” It demonstrated our incapacity to manage a relationship, and it certainly won’t have helped us to retain Arab League votes in the General Assembly today.

I’m a fan of the old Pearsonian Legacy. I’d wear Pearson’s face on a t-shirt, Che Guevara style, if someone would only print them. But for Canada to waltz into the UN today and trot out the long-standing legacy as evidence of our international merit in the year 2010, sorry, it’s just coasting on fumes. We need a new and rejuvenated internationalist legacy, and it’s got to begin before we reach for the status symbols.

Anyhoo. Any bets who Harper will pass the buck to? Because it certainly doesn’t stop with him.

1) Ignatieff bad-mouthing Canada. I guarantee we’ll hear that pop out. Which suggests a) that nations of the world listen more carefully to Michael Ignatieff than they do to the Canadian PM, but mostly b) that Harper cannot accept responsibility for his government. Blame the Liberals, blame the newspapers, blame the alignment of the stars.

2) China and Russia. They didn’t bring their friends to the vote they way we thought they would. But they’re unpredictable and malevolent powers anyway, which is why we’re buying these jets, see?

3) Liberals. Not just Canada’s Liberals, you understand, but the whole concept of liberalism. Those European liberals who epitomise it, with their dope-smoking elitist ways, and their opposition to seal clubbing. Europe is elitist and liberal, and it’s clearly anti-Canadian. Just like Toronto.

Any other possibilities?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,

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