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Harper in Africa: A pittance for the most vulnerable and a big hug for mining companies

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The Prime Minister attended the recent Francophone Summit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and that meant he was almost impelled to address the question of sexual violence against women.

Rape and other forms of violence, humiliation and intimidation have become horribly common weapons of war in the civil strife in the DRC.

It is almost impossible to visit the DRC and not pay some heed to that terrible reality.

The Prime Minister's Office's response was a brief and laconic news release which said that Canada will "assist law enforcement agencies in the Democratic Republic of Congo to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims get the legal, medical and emotional support they need."

The Canadian government's aim is to "help the DRC enforce laws to hold perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence to account and provide much needed medical care, and legal and psychosocial services to victims ..."

The PMO provides no more details, except to tout an earlier $18 million contribution to a United Nations "Fight Against Sexual Violence Project."

CIDA no longer has a Canadian partner in fighting sexual violence

Not surprisingly, the Canadian government makes no mention of the one Canadian organization that has had success working at the grassroots level in the DRC on sexual violence issues: the mainstream church affiliated group, KAIROS.

It was KAIROS that famously got its Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funding cut by a stroke of former Minister Bev Oda's pen. Oda countermanded an agreement, at the officials' level, to fund KAIROS by adding in the word "not" to an official document.

At the time, Oda said the decision was made based on nothing more than "changing priorities."

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney gave the lie to that claim when he boasted in Israel that the government de-funded KAIROS because that organization had supported boycott, disinvestment and sanctions policies directed at Israel.

The leadership at KAIROS vigorously denied that the group had ever advocated boycott, disinvestment or sanctions. KAIROS had, indeed, criticized some Israeli actions, but nothing more.

It didn't matter.

The government had made up its mind, and, in addition to the politics of the decision, it is true CIDA was, at the time, shifting its emphasis away from Africa.

Effort aimed at DRC cops and authorities, not grass roots

Suddenly, because of an international event in the DRC, in the heart of Africa, the government wanted to be able to say it cared about the ugly situation of sexual violence, and, with KAIROS out of the picture, it could call no experienced Canadian partner with a track record of success.

All the government could offer was money for the established authorities in the DRC, as though the DRC police are likely to have a sincere interest in the victims of sexual violence.

There is no effort, in the government's funding announcement, to connect with people at the community level in the DRC, people who might be able to make a real and tangible difference.

The government's concern for the fate of the most vulnerable people in one of the planet's most violent and unstable regions is, in any case, evanescent, at best.

Later on the very same day on which the government made its rather unambitious sexual violence announcement, it issued another much more detailed and enthusiastic news release proclaiming "new support to help developing countries manage their natural resources."

Now there's something this Conservative government really cares about.

A number of months ago, CIDA announced that it planned to use some foreign aid dollars to, in effect, assist Canadian mining and other resource extractive industries that operate in developing countries.

The most recent announcement is part of that new foreign aid thrust. It is for $10 million to the World Bank in support of a strange beast called the "International Extractive Industries Technical Advisory Facility (EITAF)."

Assisting developing countries, or Canadian mining companies?

EITAF's purpose, the Government tells us, "is to assist developing countries gain negotiation skills and expertise in implementing policy and regulatory frameworks to manage mining, oil and natural gas industries responsibly and transparently."

The government argues that the work of EITAF will help make sure "mining, oil and gas projects benefit local communities."

Sounds reasonable enough.

Note, however, that the EITAF money goes for managerial, not environmental or social expertise.

What happens, for instance, when those "local communities" have other economic activities they might want to pursue, such as fishing or farming?

What happens when local communities would rather not have any sort of invasion of multi-national extractive companies -- however "well negotiated" that invasion might be?

What happens when local communities, based on bitter experience, fear that, whatever the negotiated agreement between government and foreign industry, they will get the fuzzy end of the stick?

What happens when local, often remote, communities fear that they will by stuck with all the environmental and social damage, while political and economic elites far away get all the benefit?

Dealing with those questions does not seem to be in EITAF's mandate.

And, just in case anyone was under the misapprehension that the primary preoccupation of this initiative is the wellbeing of people in developing countries, the following paragraph in the news release makes clear whose interests Canada actually wants to protect:

"EITAF also produces and shares information to improve transparency. Transparency and consistent regulatory oversight benefit host governments and their citizens, but also provide certainty for companies undertaking mining operations." [emphasis added]

That "certainty for companies" is the real motive for this supposed investment in the developing world.

Karl Nerenberg covers news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Donate to support his efforts todayKarl has been a journalist for over 25 years including eight years as the producer of the CBC show The House. 

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