Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit Africa in February, marking the fourth high-level visit by Canadian officials to the continent this year, but experts say the outreach may be too little, too late as Canada seeks support for its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Mr. Trudeau will travel to Ethiopia for the African Union Summit and Senegal, where he is expected to court support for Canada’s campaign for one of 10 rotating, non-permanent seats on the United Nation’s most powerful branch in 2021-22. African member states account for 54 – or 28 per cent – of the 193 members at the UN, making the continent one of the largest voting blocs in the race for the coveted Security Council seat.
The Prime Minister’s trip comes on the heels of visits by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, International Development Minister Karina Gould and Rob Oliphant, Mr. Champagne’s parliamentary secretary, to Africa in January.
Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, said the recent visits have built on generations of Canadian engagement in Africa – something he hopes will translate into support for the bid for the Security Council seat. He said public expressions of support for Canada from Ivory Coast and La Francophonie, which includes more than 20 French-speaking African countries, are encouraging as UN member states prepare to cast their ballots in June.
“I feel confident that Canada is perceived by the member states at the United Nations, including in Africa, as a very reliable and effective partner,” Mr. Blanchard said.
The ambassador pointed to the Liberal government’s track record in Africa, highlighting Canada’s leadership in securing nearly $13-billion in international funding for the Global Fund, aimed at fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and another $3.8-billion for girls’ education in conflict and crisis situations. Canada also became chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission this week, a role Mr. Blanchard said African countries are excited to see Canada in.
Allan Rock, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, said that while Mr. Blanchard is a top-notch diplomat and the country’s best asset in its campaign, Canada’s Africa outreach is “coming very late.” He said Canada was preoccupied with North American free-trade negotiations and other foreign-policy priorities, while rivals Norway and Ireland sought support much earlier.
“A lot of these votes may already have been put in the bank by our competitors long ago."
He said Canada is likely competing for second place with Ireland at this point, as Norway is a popular member of the UN with an established international presence.
Norway excels on the international aid front, contributing 0.94 per cent of its gross national income to development assistance in 2018, compared with just 0.28 per cent in Canada – well below the UN target of 0.7 per cent. David Hornsby, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University, said Canada’s development aid record could hurt its chances of winning the Security Council seat.
“Over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, Canada’s been disengaging on the African continent. Perfect case in point is shutting down of missions, less aid," Prof. Hornsby said. “We are simply not a player.”
Chris Roberts, a political scientist at the University of Calgary who specializes in African issues and peacekeeping, said the Trudeau government’s peacekeeping commitments are also problematic. Mr. Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on a promise to restore Canada’s commitment to UN peace operations, but took more than two years to announce plans to deploy 250 Canadian peacekeepers to Mali for a one-year operation – a mission Prof. Roberts described as “really small and time-sensitive."
“I think that African civil servants and military folks, European civil servants and military folks, have interpreted the Canadian contribution as very instrumentalist," Prof. Roberts said. “It seems like we say a lot and we don’t do it.”
Ireland outshines Canada on the peacekeeping front, with one of the highest per capita troop contributions to UN peacekeeping operations.
Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau who is now a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, doesn’t agree with the assessment that Canada’s Security Council bid is in trouble. He said Canada’s agenda speaks to large groups of countries, especially those concerned about climate change.
“My understanding is that we still have a realistic shot, particularly in relation to Africa, small-island states and Latin America," Mr. Paris said.
Canada last sat on the Security Council in 1999-2000. Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government withdrew Canada’s candidacy for a Security Council seat in 2010 when it became clear Canada would lose to Portugal.