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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on June 6, 2012.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Samuel Getachew is a journalist based in Addis Ababa.

Not only did the late Brian Mulroney profoundly shape Canada during his days as prime minister, he also left a substantial legacy in the country that I currently call home, Ethiopia. During his first weeks in office, Mr. Mulroney launched an effort that helped save the lives of thousands of Ethiopians in the midst of the devastating famine which ravaged the Horn of Africa from 1983 to 1985.

Veteran Canadian journalist Brian Stewart often liked to remind Canadians how in 1984, Stephen Lewis, the ambassador to the UN and former NDP politician, received a phone call from Mr. Mulroney after watching a CBC report the previous day of images of famine-stricken Ethiopians starving before his own eyes.

With the urging of the Progressive Conservative leader, Mr. Lewis would take centre stage and speak for Ethiopian victims, propelling the world to act. Soon after, Mr. Mulroney dispatched his foreign minister, Joe Clark, who was on a diplomatic trip in India, to come to Addis Ababa and assess the situation on the ground.

My father, then a young agricultural expert, was heartened when he was asked to welcome “the nice Canadians” to Ethiopia. He remembered how Mr. Clark’s delegation to Addis Ababa seemed genuinely concerned and came with full authority to help tackle the famine that was overwhelming the nation, affecting millions of people who were running out of time.

Canada’s actions led to a UN and Red Cross humanitarian relief effort, and Canadians, as well as many others from around the world, were moved to donate. The momentum propelled Bob Geldof to gather musicians inside Wimbledon stadium for Live Aid to raise needed resources, which was followed by Canada’s charity single, Tears Are Not Enough. Had it not been for such rare world leadership, many more would have perished.

My father recalled meeting Mr. Clark, who wiped away tears as he looked at images of famine victims. The Canadians he met impressed my father, and he was heartened when he later took residency in Canada and acquired citizenship. Sadly, Mr. Mulroney’s important legacy on this file is little known by Canadians, and was never celebrated within Canada.

Canada’s 18th prime minister was no stranger across the African continent. On South Africa, Mr. Mulroney spoke out against apartheid – a daring move in the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who were opposed to sanctions. “If there is no progress in the dismantling of apartheid, our relations with South Africa may have to be severed completely,” he said in a speech in front of the UN General Assembly.

Here in Ethiopia, where I have lived since 2016, I have often championed the legacy of Mr. Mulroney. I wanted a new generation to know what this wonderful Canadian did for the country and our fellow citizens. I wanted his name to be linked with good citizenship, generosity and world leadership.

I have spoken with university presidents about honouring him in Ethiopia – perhaps naming a street or a university institute after him for all the noble work he had done. It is a pity that did not happen while he was alive.

The current conflict in Ethiopia overshadowed the idea. But I haven’t forgotten Mr. Mulroney’s vision and sense of social justice. His progressive legacy makes me proud to be a Canadian citizen.

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