Canada: "Africa Is a Lost Cause"

New African, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Canada: "Africa Is a Lost Cause"


A new report by Canada's Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs has exposed the country's lukewarm attitude towards Africa, with politicians divided between those who believe that Africa is "a lost cause" and those who feel duty-bound to help the continent.

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The Committee's two-year investigation into the Canadian International Development Agency's work in Africa was published at the end of February. It said the agency (better known by its acronym, CIDA) has failed to "make an effective foreign aid difference" in 38 years.

The committee found that 81% of CIDA's staff and operations were based in Ottawa not in Africa where records show that C$12.4bn has been spent in four decades but there was nothing to show for it.

"The government of Canada should conduct an immediate review of whether or not this organisation should continue to exist," suggested the report, which is yet to be debated in the full Senate and House of Commons.

The committee said if CIDA could not be closed down, the government should create an "Africa Office" within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade that would include aid workers, diplomats and security staff with the goal of stimulating economic development. It said 80% of CIDA staff would have to work in Africa.

As currently constituted, CIDA, according to the report, "is essentially established by a paragraph in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act" despite having an annual budget in excess of C$3bn.

The report sent shockwaves through the agency's corridors and has divided Canadian politicians. Opposition politicians claim the report is a ploy by government-appointed senators to portray CIDA as a waste of public funds. In fact, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already reduced overall aid to Africa anyway and its policy on the continent is that of minimum engagement.

"When I was part of the ruling party, the attitude among my colleagues who are now in power was that Africa was always a lost cause and that people there deserve what is happening to them," said Dr Keith Martin, a member of parliament for the Liberal Party. …

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