Let’s get this straight. We have a Prime Minister who excited us with his promise that Canada would become a peacekeeping nation once again, but who has evidently abandoned the issue entirely. We have a Minister of Foreign Affairs who is immersed almost exclusively in North American free-trade agreement negotiations to the exclusion, so it seems, of most other foreign issues, while the actual International Trade Minister remains studiously incognito. If there is such a thing as a Canada-Africa file, for example, our government doesn’t flaunt it.
Meanwhile, the world remains a mess. Canada is needed.
As always, just about every time you turn around, a terrible crisis looms in a place or for a group you’ve never heard of before. And just about when you’ve committed its name to memory and solemn cries of “never again” are heard, the name vanishes from the headlines. Is the crisis ended? Did the good guys save anyone? Who knows? Time’s up. On to the next crisis.
Today’s list would surely include Yemenis, Houthi and Rohingya. Mogadishu comes and goes and comes. And of course much suffering has been inflicted on those associated with these names. But any good cynic would advise you not to worry about remembering them. They’re likely to be replaced by others before very long. After all, there’s always Africa — Mali, Niger, Congo, Somalia, Kenya.
A few years ago, I used this space to draw attention to the looming disaster in Burundi, a tiny state in Central Africa that’s a kind of mirror-image of Rwanda. According to the latest from IRIN, an independent, non-profit media network that provides “the inside story on emergencies,” little good has happened in the country since. On the contrary: A UN commission reported last month that many warnings were followed by years of killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, disappearances and sexual violence.
Then I wrote about the sectarian massacres in the Central African Republic, mainly Muslims versus Christians. Indeed, the CAR was one of the countries rumoured to be on Justin Trudeau’s radar for Canadian peacekeepers. But it soon disappeared from public sight and Trudeau speeches, although the brutality did not. Now, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has just returned from the CAR and has reported on criminal atrocities being committed in the country with impunity by armed groups. More words? After all, the last secretary-general once assured me personally that the United Nations would indeed act in the country.
Who knows? Maybe this time actual steps will be taken. Under its new Secretary-General, the UN has agreed to focus more on crisis prevention. As IRIN says rather self-evidently, “If the UN is serious about prevention, it must take credible action on Burundi before it is too late.” Of course, it’s already too late for countless victims.
In the meantime, you can now add Cameroon, a country that shares a border with Nigeria, to the list of unfamiliar names you will need to know for a few hours. Like Canada, it’s an officially bilingual country. But unlike Canada, the French are numerically superior (80 per cent) and the English have long complained of being discriminated against and marginalized. When I was last there, I found much bitterness among English-speakers and provocative indifference among French-speakers. A kind of reverse Canada, you might say. President Paul Biya, an 84-year-old French-speaker, has been in office for 35 years, an accurate reflection of the state of democracy in the country.
Now, in response to English-speaking protests, witnesses fear that ethnic cleansing of the English by Mr. Biya’s forces is a real possibility. Accusations of genocidal action against anglophone Cameroonians have been levelled at Mr. Biya. Thoughtful peace activists see this as a perfect opportunity for intervention not just by the UN — that should go without saying — but specifically by Canada. They believe that our own bilingualism makes Canada an appropriate country to apply pressure on Mr. Biya.
Yet the Trudeau government seems to have given up entirely any idea of involvement in Africa, while the thought of joining a UN intervention project has disappeared. This government seems to have dismissed Africa as wholeheartedly as the Harperites before them. Mr. Trudeau created high expectations both around the world and at home. He is disappointing us all.
Listen to Gerald Caplan interviewed on rabble radio about hope and despair in a mixed up world here.
Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national director.
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.
Image: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr
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