Canada’s African adventure takes a colonial turn – by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail – February 2, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

What do we call the thing Canada is doing in Africa?

It involves our largest corporations, the federal government, public- and private-sector aid agencies, and sometimes the military. And their activities are increasingly connected, sometimes by choice, often by force of circumstance.

This week saw Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade, touring some of the scores of city-sized mining, oil and infrastructure developments that Canada is creating in Nigeria and Ghana, and the development and aid activities that we’ve brought in to surround them. He’s the third cabinet minister to visit those countries since October.

If you follow his steps, you realize Canada is no longer simply “doing business” or “providing aid” in Africa. What we’re doing is something that bears a striking resemblance to the things Britain and France were doing in Canada two centuries ago.

First came the exploiters, in search of mineral wealth. Though most Canadians don’t realize it, Canada is now the largest foreign mining operator in the continent, exceeding even China: We have almost $25-billion in investments in hundreds of huge projects. Our petroleum companies are gigantic players, too. And along with those miners came the people building roads and dams and buildings: Our engineering firms are among the largest on the continent.

Then came the trouble. The taking of resources is a rough business that tends to occur among vulnerable populations. It involves spreading money around, often paying off key people to acquire rights and win the co-operation of local groups. This is inevitably a political process, and it’s often dirty. As a result, Canadian companies can’t seem to keep out of trouble in Africa.

This week, we learned that a Calgary oil company, Griffiths Energy International Inc., had paid a $2-million bribe in a resource deal with the government of Chad. Two weeks earlier, a detailed report from Human Rights Watch revealed that a mine in Eritrea owned by Canadian mining company Nevsun Resources had been built in part by unpaid forced labourers provided by the Eritrean government.

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