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?

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

Limp on, dear Commonwealth!

I’m a bit of a fan of the Commonwealth. Maybe that’s unusual, and especially unusual for anti-monarchist republicans (like moi) who blame most of the world’s ills on the dark legacy of colonialism (actually also like moi).

But there are a couple of reasons to like its work and its potential for greater things. Firstly, on a compassionate level, I feed bad for it. Mainstream media and lesserstream media alike seem to take great joy in attacking the Commonwealth with the predictable clichéd adjectives like “relic,” “imperial,” “redundant.” I suppose I automatically rally to the defence of anything that seems casually dismissed at best and gleefully mocked at worst.

Mainly, though, what I like about it is in contrast to the United Nations. The UN is, necessarily, a universal organisation. If it is generally agreed that you are a state, then you are eligible for UN membership. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sham state like Somalia, an atrocious state like North Korea… the political recognition of statehood gets you in the General Assembly, pointe finale.

The Commonwealth, though, is meritorious. It’s not enough, or even necessary, to be an “ex-colony.” Mozambique and Rwanda joined without any formal links to Britain in their histories. What you need is to demonstrate a verifiable and sustained commitment to human rights, to transparency, to electoral democracy, to education, to combatting racism. That’s the basis of the Harare Declaration, and it gives the institution a raison d’être that the UN can never have.

If you violate the terms of good behaviour, you get suspended, as Pakistan, Fiji, and Zimbabwe have been in recent years. Brits and Canadians might not notice that much, which is a shame, because the role the Commonwealth plays in affirming democratic and liberal credentials (like an ISO certification, but for countries!) matters much more in the developing world. Countries like Rwanda clamoured for years to join the CW, in a manner not unlike Turkey’s reforms aimed at easing entry into the EU. So, it has influence.

I also like the scholarships, and I like the Games. The Commonwealth Games are, of course, the most high-profile feature of the Commonwealth itself, and despite the fact Australia wins bloody everything, it’s nice to have an athletic forum that is predominately Global Southern, and doesn’t feature much competition from Europe, and hey, no U.S.

But the Commonwealth has a crisis in communicating its vision of legitimacy and relevance, and the kerfuffle over the Dirty Delhi Games only exacerbates this. People will say: “FIFA awarded the World Cup to South Africa, and they went fine. Why couldn’t the Commonwealth do a better job of ensuring the Delhi Games were up to scratch?” And it’s a good point. I suppose people need to remember that, as an institution borne out of empire, it is now a devotedly decentralised and non-interfering organisation. To avoid accusations of patronising neo-colonialism, the principle of non-interference might have played a role in hands-offness with the organisationness. But it doesn’t look good.

In typical bumbling fashion, London Mayor Boris Johnson has waded in with a ham-fisted attempt to rally around the beleaguered Delhi Games, and he did so by exposing his total ignorance as to how his own country competes in it.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Team GB should go to the Games and playing their part in what has every prospect of being a fantastic Games,” he told the Standard. “I hope that some of our great competitors won’t be put of by media gloomstering from doing the Commonwealth proud.”

Team GB is the unified British team that competes at the Olympics. But for the Commonwealth Games, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland each compete separately. The Mayor of the 2012 Olympic Games City doesn’t know how the Commonwealth Games (or his own country’s athletics federation) work.

So the Commonwealth suffers from bad optics, and it’s generally criticised (and praised) by people with only a cursory understanding of how it works, what it does, why it exists. I was hoping the Delhi Games would show a future-oriented, Southern-driven, bright, young, up-and-coming face of the Commonwealth as embodied in the state of India itself. If all people see are dirty floors and collapsed bridges, though, it’s just going to be another opportunity to beat up on the whole institution. And to that I say boo.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , ,


June 2020

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 40 other followers