Rather than providing a numbing analysis of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s awkward UN Security Council campaign in Africa, if readers will indulge me, I’ve presumed a little myself by ghostwriting a letter that the prime minister might wish to send to his new friends in Africa.
It tries to explain what it is that Canada’s leader did by zigzagging across their vast continent.
From: The Rt. Hon. Justin Pierre James Trudeau
To: My Dear New Friends in Africa
Gentlemen, (I say that because from what I could see, everyone in the African Union’s official photo was a guy):
Thank you for the swell welcome you accorded me this week at the African Union’s 33rd annual summit in Ethiopia. It was a great chance to meet you and let you know about Canada’s bid for a non-voting seat on the United Nations Security Council. I dropped by and then hopped over to Senegal because I recently noticed that Africa has 1.2 billion people and 55 of the 193 votes in the UN General Assembly.
Sorry I have not been to an AU gathering before. I have been busy visiting countries such as India, where I got to wear some great costumes, had fun at a G7 conference in Britain mocking President Donald Trump, and visited my old billionaire buddy, the Aga Khan, at his exclusive private Bahamian island where, after landing in the prince’s helicopter, we had a chance to discuss the Third World’s problems whenever I was not out surfing.
Anyway, it’s not like I have not been in Africa before. I attended the La Francophonie Summit in Madagascar one year after I was elected prime minister back in 2015. I also spent a few hours in Mali at the end of 2018 chilling in the desert with troops from Canada’s short-lived peacekeeping mission there. So you can see, I am practically an old Africa hand.
Speaking of peacekeeping, as I have told Canadians since I first ran for prime minister five years ago, sending our men and women out into the world to wear the blue beret is the best way to show that Canada is back as a serious global player. I know that we only sent 250 soldiers to Mali, that they had orders to never to leave their compound on foot or in vehicles and that they only stayed for 13 months. But we underlined our commitment to Africa by showing up.
It is a fact that the UN repeatedly requested that our world-class military medevac team stay a few months longer in Mali. Because so many of you fellas have not been democratically elected, you may not have appreciated how important it was for me to rush those troops home before the last federal election campaign got underway.
You were kind enough not to make a fuss about Canada only having 21 soldiers currently deployed as peacekeepers in Africa and the Middle East. I am guessing that you gave Canada a pass on this because as the world knows, peacekeeping has been part of who we are for so long. Anyway, if the vote goes Canada’s way at the UN in June, I promise you that we will do better.
Some of you may have noticed that Chrystia Freeland never made it to Africa when she was my foreign minister. My apologies on my deputy prime minister’s behalf. Please understand that she has been preoccupied with trade negotiations with the U.S. and has been otherwise transfixed by her abiding interest in the fracas between Russia and Ukraine rather than the more numerous and deadlier conflicts that paralyze much of Africa.
Though Chrystia is a force of nature blessed with incredible energy, with all that has been on her plate she simply did not have a free day or two to visit your wonderful continent. But her successor, Francois-Philippe Champagne has been travelling across Africa like crazy lately to demonstrate how important you are to Canada.
You may have heard that like my predecessor, Stephen Harper, I cut Canada’s humanitarian aid. However, I was able to bump it up a little last year to 0.25 per cent of our GDP though we are still not keeping up with our country’s inflation rate.
I know. I know. That is only one-quarter of the spending as a percentage of GDP of Norway and also less than Ireland, which are the other countries bidding for a two-year non-voting term on the Security Council. Far better, I think, if you recall that Canada was a bigger donor to Africa back in the 20th century and that many Canadian NGOs and mining companies do important work there.
It was polite of the summiteers to not make a big deal of my wearing blackface when I was in Ethiopia and later when I visited the House of Slaves in Senegal. I painted my face at least three times during my sometimes impetuous youth. Well, okay, one of those times was when I was 28 and a school teacher. But Canadians are forgiving. They accepted my apologies and we all moved on. I mean, I still got re-elected. I am sure you will find it in your hearts to pardon me, too.
I have been learning that there are too many African wars to count right now. They are taking place from Libya to Congo to Mozambique, while jihadi terrorists are growing in number and causing mayhem across the Sahara and in Central Africa. I guess that is why the AU chose “Silence the Guns” as the theme for this year’s summit.
I am grateful to you for putting aside your declared summit priority for a moment to allow me a chance to explain to you why I think that my government’s championing of the empowerment of women, ways to stop climate change and encouraging greater trade are excellent reasons why Canada deserves a place at the Security Council table alongside Donald, Boris, Chairman Xi and Vladimir Vladimirovich.
To emphasize Canada’s noble intentions, I gave the African Union $10 million to promote gender equality while I was in Addis Ababa. That’s not much compared to the US$400 million that our Ethiopian hosts are spending on a dam on the Upper Nile. Or the $60 billion that China intended to invest in Africa last year. But I am sure we can agree that it is the thought that counts.
I am not sure if any of you know any Caribbean leaders, but if you do, perhaps you can give them a shout out on my behalf. All those tiny island states have a lot of UN votes, so I am diverting to a leaders’ summit in Barbados on Monday and Tuesday to tell them all about Canada’s exciting plans for the security council. But please remember I came to see you first.
Gosh, it was good to finally meet all of you. I promise to come back again soon if Africa gives its trove of Security Council votes to Canada. It would mean a lot to me personally if you would help us out. I really mean it.
Sincerely, your new best friend,
Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas