When the world talks about matters that affect Africa, too often Africans aren't part of the conversation.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper's invitation to Ethiopia and Malawi to join the G20 talks in Toronto on June 26 and 27 ensures that the continent will have a voice in economic discussions that could deeply affect the health of its collective economy and the welfare of its citizens.
The G20, which has rapidly evolved as the premier forum for confronting global economic problems and for co-ordinating solutions, has only one permanent member from Africa: South Africa.
Yet the global economic crisis had dark consequences for African nations. Cash-strapped first world governments, including Canada's, cut back on foreign aid to the region. Fluctuating prices wrought havoc on exports from Ethiopian coffee to Malawian minerals. And capital retreated from the continent as investors sought safer climates and stronger cash reserves.
Nonetheless, better financial management in many countries, coupled with greater private-sector investment, allowed much of Africa to weather the recession with less trauma than had been the case during previous downturns, according to Antoinette Sayeh, the Africa head of the International Monetary Fund.
"Africa has seen a significant increase in foreign investment that predates the crisis, and during the course of the crisis, those investments also fared reasonably well," she wrote recently.
Still, if this is to be an African century, one precondition must be economic stability outside Africa as well as within it. So there is good reason for Malawi and Ethiopia to be at the talks, though the former nation might not have been Mr. Harper's first choice.
Any conversation between Mr. Harper and Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi's President, might proved strained, for Canada dropped the impoverished southeast African nation from the list of major-aid recipients last year and closed the high commission in Lilongwe to boot.
The move was the result of the Conservative government's determination to focus its foreign aid on 20 key nations, with a greater emphasis on support for countries in this hemisphere. The news was greeted with deep dismay by government officials and aid agencies.
Dimitri Soudas, Mr. Harper's director of communications, said the government decided to limit its African aid to seven nations, excluding Malawi, "in light of their real needs, their capacity to benefit from this aid, and the extent to which these countries respond to Canada's foreign policy priorities."
But Mr. Mutharika was elected chairman of the 53-member African Union in January, and is thus the logical choice to represent Africa at the summit. Malawi is also one of the most genuinely democratic African nations, and under Mr. Mutharika's leadership has begun to show gains in economic development and quality of life for its 15 million people.
Mr. Soudas said Ethiopia was chosen because of its regional and continental influence.
Ethiopia is Africa's second-most-populous country. The United States and Europe each pour $1-billion (U.S.) in aid a year into Ethiopia, and Ethiopia remains a Canadian aid priority, despite the government's reputation for thugishness toward opponents and journalists.
One reason is that the nation is so poor and its citizens' situation so precarious. Another is that an unstable Ethiopia would further destabilize the Horn of Africa, which is perpetually troubled by war and civil strife. Although Ethiopia is one of the world's oldest Christian nations, a third of the population is Muslim, and instability could also turn the country and the region into a petri dish for the growth of al-Qaeda and other forms of Islamist extremism.
The G20 meetings next month will focus on an unstable European Mediterranean, on reining in irresponsible banks and investors, and on weaning global economies off government-induced stimulus without plunging everyone back into recession.
Mr. Harper's invitation to Malawi and Ethiopia to be part of those talks signals that Africa is finally starting to contribute to solutions, rather than just passively waiting for help.