First published in Foreign Policy Journal
Canada in Africa - 300 years of aid and exploitation. Yves Engler. RED Publishing (Fernwood). Vancouver (Black Point, NS). 2015.
This is a timely book after the recent Canadian election defeat of the Harper government and the election of the Trudeau government. The former bragged about the number of “free” trade agreements the government had made around the world, some forty by their own accounts, many of them within Africa. The latter, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, were voted to power indicating “We are back,” indicating that the image of Canada as an honest broker, peace-making kind of image will be renewed. Both cases disguise what Canada’s actual role has been in international affairs.
Yves Engler has written several strongly referenced and well researched works exposing how various Canadian governments - which vacillate between Conservatives and Liberals - have essentially followed first the British imperial drive globally (as well as being founded from that) and then followed the U.S. corporate/military imperial drive in more recent history. His current work, Canada in Africa - 300 years of aid and exploitation, continues the same theme, adding also the more current reality of the supposed “free” trade agreements as being just another technique in the repertoire of exploitation.
Canada in Africa stands above the other works. It is more fully developed in all areas, and demonstrates a higher quality of writing than his previous works. While the book is a difficult read simply for the amount of information presented, it is also very cohesive and flows smoothly from topic to topic as a strong history should.
The work begins within a Canada that itself was simply a colony, with its own resources exploited for the wealth of the empire - first furs, then lumber and gold, followed by the land itself, doled out to large waves of white immigrants using its own tactics of ethnic cleansing while displacing the indigenous population. It became an asset within the empire as its loyal population followed British imperial designs and in cases improved upon them.
The first three chapters discuss Canada’s role in Africa, its active participation in the slave trade, its military role in supporting British colonial enterprises in Africa, and as always, the religious and ideological rhetoric that accompanied the white man’s quest for wealth and power. The fourth chapter makes the transition from Canada in a supporting role to a role of independent action and willing partner in modern exploitation of Africa.
The main part of the book looks at modern history, essentially after World War II and the deconstruction of the original colonial enterprises, later to be reformed and reshaped into an economic and military neo-colonialism. Topics range from the role of the IMF and World Bank utilizing their “structural adjustment programs” in order to capture the resources of the newly independent countries, through the military actions supporting that drive (most recently in Libya), to the modern “free trade” acts - the Foreign Investment Protection Agreements (FIPA).
Canada has signed many of the latter within Africa. The recent governments (Mulroney, Chretien, Charest, Clark, Harper) laud this as being a win-win situation, but the reality of the agreements, with the emphasis on corporate protection, is that Canadian corporations, subsidised by the Canadian government, are basically free to do what is necessary to exploit native resources for Canada’s corporate benefit.
The results are tragic for Africa, with democratically elected governments frequently being overthrown for more subservient, often military governments. Social programs are eliminated or decreased - health, workers rights, environmental concerns, education - while the farmers/villages are pushed off the land to serve as cheap labour for corporate concerns.
Engler examines critically one of Canada’s largest sectors currently operating in Africa, the mining industry. Relying on the FIPAs, using mercenaries or using ‘sanctioned’ force, using bribery, kickbacks, and offshore accounts, Canada’s mining industry is a large player on the African continent, not to the benefit of the Africans, and not really to the benefit of Canadians except for the few corporate owners and politicians who gain from this wealth extraction.
If you have ever wondered why Africa remains mired in poverty, constantly at war, and ripe for terrorist exploitation, Canada in Africa delivers a strong answer to that curiosity. It should be a must read for anyone interested in current affairs, modern history, or that dullest of affairs, political science. Yves Engler has written a valuable, well defined, and instructive compendium of Canada’s history and current activities in Africa.