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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Meaning it – and loving it

I’m beginning to build a distinct impression of David Cameron – especially when seeing him abroad. It’s a vision of a kind of self-playing bagpipe, one which honks and hums from one note to the next with no apparent effort to achieve coherence, grace or melody. Sorry, bagpipes.

He communicates with a Blairesque (or even “Obaman”) self-confidence, but without the gravity of substance, the thrill of compelling argument, or the ring of sincerity. The end goal seems to be no greater than “conclude an effective schmooze” with whoever is hosting – even if that means infuriating other parties who aren’t physically present.

It seems true of his visit to Turkey this week. I’m including some choice excerpts from his speech to the Turkish Parliament today (sub-headings by me).

Patronising
“Those who wilfully misunderstand Islam, they see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the problem is Islam itself. And they think the values of Islam can just never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies or cultures. All of these arguments are just plain wrong.”

Thanks, David. I’m sure that the Turkish Parliament (which, umm, operates within a secular constitution) appreciates your view that Islam isn’t (just) for monsters. Hopefully in future, we should be so lucky as to have the UK or Canadian Parliaments told by a foreign leader that Christians are not inherently spiritless hypocrites. Because that’s just plain wrong.

Cringeworthy
“A European Union without Turkey at its heart is not stronger but weaker… not more secure but less… not richer but poorer.”

Wow. A triptych of juxtaposed opposites. Could Cameron have continued? “Not more united, but less united. Not happier, but sadder. Not pepperier, but saltier. Wait, are those even opposites? Ooorgh!”

And that’s the point – presenting vague “opposite scenarios” isn’t really an insight – it’s fluff. Of course Turkey joining the EU would strengthen it in some areas, weaken it in others, anger the consolidating Hadrians and delight the expansionist Trajans. Cameron could have explained his idea as to what would be strengthened, why we’d be more prosperous, and how we’d be any more secure. Ambitious, I know.

Angry
“It makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been.”

Does it? Because there are steps that a constructive member of the European Union could take to ensure that it maximises its influence, and they aren’t the steps Britain has taken. We know what Britain generally (and especially the Tories) wants the EU to look like – they pursue the broadest, shallowest version of Europe possible. A Europe that ought to keep spreading out to Ukraine and Turkey (even some liberals would like to include ceremonial semi-states like Kosovo), but the UK generally also idealises a Europe that does nothing, makes no laws, bears no arms, waves no flag. Kind of a big house party where everyone’s invited, and no one has any responsibilities.

But the Conservative British desire for a big, flat useless Europe has manifested itself, unhelpfully, in British retrenchment from Europe. Cameron’s sidelined the UK in the EU Parliament by joining a bloc of nutters and nationalists. He campaigned on an anti-Europe ticket, and upon election, told the faithful he’d soon be wresting powers away from Brussels as soon as he could figure out how to.

None of these policies have given the British any more influence in shaping Europe to their Trajanist vision, and so any “anger” now at Europe not behaving in UK interests is just misplaced. In short, if Britain were at the heart of Europe, maybe Turkey would be closer as well.

“So I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.”

Britain isn’t at the “top table,” and are unlikely to return there by stamping on Sarkozy’s or Merkel’s toes like this.

Next stop?

Well, excitingly, Cameron will be delving deeper into Old Asia next, with a visit to India. Let us hope he doesn’t tell them their religion isn’t as godless as some make out, and that they’d make a smashing partner in the European Union too, if only the damned French weren’t so difficult about it.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , ,

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