NEARSIGHTED and WRONG-HEADED

Self-interest the priority for Canadian government

The elderly matriarch of her village of Chilanga, Malawi, 80 year old Agogo Beriya Saka has seen the country develop as a working democracy. Malawians like her can talk freely, fewer of her children and grandchildren die prematurely of AIDS, and free primary education replaced the burden of school fees. Once dependent on food aid, Malawi is now a net exporter and a regional breadbasket.

Canada has supported many of these transformations, but that is about to change. The government has cut Malawi and several other countries in Africa from the list of 20 priority countries that receive almost 80% of Canada’s bilateral assistance.In a press release in February, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda said that the purpose was to make Canada’s international assistance more effective.

“Focusing our bilateral assistance will make our aid dollars go further and make a greater difference for those we help.”

The revised priority list of countries for Canadian bilateral aid accomplishes none of the declared goals Minister Oda set out. This government and this prime minister have shown a disinterest in Africa that is remarkable for its near-sightedness. Harper’s real checklist is economic returns and none of the African countries dropped represent any great trading possibilities for Canada. Early in his period in office, Prime Minister Harper called for a re-engagement with Latin America as a way of providing more lucrative returns for Canadian aid dollars.

Even as the IMF calls for more bilateral assistance to the countries it considers “highly vulnerable” states, the Conservative government is moving wrong-headedly in the opposite direction. I think we all applaud efforts to make aid more effective – to prevent development funds from being used for vain, prestige projects, and to avoid supporting venal, abusive governments. However, by any criteria, Malawi and the other poorest countries of Africa should still be on the list.


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