Stephen Harper's reluctance to wade further into a military mission in Mali extended to the funding of African troops on Tuesday, as Canada offered a modest boost in aid but did not join allies in pledging money for a multinational African force.
The international donors' conference in Addis Ababa – organized to raise pledges to fund a West African military mission and Mali's own forces so they can take over the fight from French troops battling Islamist rebels – collected more than $455-million in pledges, officials said.
Canada, long one of Mali's largest aid donors, announced it would boost aid for Malians by $13-million – money to go through UN agencies and non-government agencies for food, medical care and other basic needs.
But although Mr. Harper has called for Africans to take leadership in the mission in Mali, Canada did not join other major Western nations in pledging money for two UN trust funds to finance Mali's military and a force of about 5,500 from the 15-nation West African bloc ECOWAS. African nations, along with France, have pressed Canada to provide money to support the mission – arguing that while they can send troops, they need military support and cash beyond their resources.
"Our discussions here today will help inform our deliberations toward preserving the territorial integrity of Mali," International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, the Canadian representative at the conference, said in Addis Ababa. "In the meantime, we will continue our humanitarian support for Mali, our logistical support to the French-led operation and our significant development and diplomatic efforts to respond to the challenges throughout the Sahel region."
The United States pledged $96-million for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, or AFISMA, and the European Union pledged $67.5-million. The African Union pledged another $50-million, and ECOWAS, $10-million.
Canada's $13-million contribution was by far the smallest among nations from the G7 group of major industrialized nations, as large European countries topped up their EU contributions with funds of their own. France, which now has more than 3,000 troops in Mali, pledged $63-million, Germany contributed $20-million and Britain $8-million.
Ottawa was not alone in directing its money solely to humanitarian aid: Japan, which tends to offer aid rather than military support, topped all donors by pledging $120-million in humanitarian aid for Mali and its neighbours, which are coping with a flow of refugees.
The Harper government has sent a C-17 heavy-lift cargo plane to ferry military supplies from France to Bamako, Mali's capital – but it has taken pains to insist Canada will not be drawn into a combat role, and has been reluctant to offer more military support.
Canada sent an official to a European Union meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss plans for an EU training mission to prepare West African forces, but an aide to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the official went to listen, and Canada did not pledge troops as trainers.
In Addis Ababa, dozens of other countries also pledged funds for Mali, and organizers of the conference did not detail how much will pay for African forces and how much will go to other goals such as humanitarian aid. The UN has estimated that Mali's forces and the troops from ECOWAS will require about $450-million.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the boost in aid was "a start," but that the sum will be considered small for a country with long-standing ties to Mali. "We haven't come up with what people expect of Canada," he said.
Canada provided $110-million in aid to Mali in the 2010-11 fiscal year, but cut off direct aid to Mali's government after a March coup displaced the elected government. Ottawa has continued to provide aid through the UN and non-government agencies, which Mr. Baird said Tuesday has totalled $75-million since the coup.
In Addis Ababa, Mr. Fantino said the new aid will help strengthen the country's south so that more efforts can be directed at fighting jihadists in the north. "A stable south means more efforts can be concentrated on the security situation in the north," he said.