by Jessica Carroll
ThePANEL: What Role Should Canada Play in the Horn of Africa?
On Wednesday, October 1st, thePANEL, in partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the Canadian International Council – National Capital Branch and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs presented a panel discussion on issues concerning the Horn of Africa. Held in the beautiful setting of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, it was a lively and thought-provoking discussion between five panelists.
Each of the five panelists brought with them a very unique point of view from their different roles within the region:
Cedric Barnes is the Horn of Africa Project Director at the International Crisis Group. Previously he has taught and research at the School of Oriental and African Studies(SOAS) at London University, as well working as Principal Research Analyst at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Christina Murray is professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law at the University of Cape Town and a member of the UN Mediation Standby Team. She has had a role in working on several constitutions including Kenya, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
Todd Romaine is the Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility with Nevsun Resources Ltd, which currently runs the highest grade open pit mine in Eritrea. He holds graduate degrees from the Fletcher School at Tufts University in International Relations and from the University of Guelph in Leadership. Hon.
Deepak Obhrai is a Member of the Queen’s Privy Council, Member of Parliament for Calgary East and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He holds a deep-rooted interest in Africa, as he was born and raised in Tanzania.
Hon. Irwin Cotler is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is currently serving as the Liberal Critic for Rights and Freedoms and International Justice, and as the Vice-Chair of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
The panel discussion was conducted under the format of three fifteen minute segments concerning three different questions, with audience participation at the end of each segment.
(This video started off the night’s debate, and provided some good background info for many attendees)
The first section was geared more towards Canada’s role in the security of the region. Barnes started the discussion off by stressing that the situation in South Sudan will prove to be one of the largest security concerns in the area. The discussion then moved into the topic of good governance in the Horn of Africa region and its role in mitigating security threats. Murray took the opportunity to point out that the Westgate Mall attacks were a chance for the Kenyan government to prove that it had improved since the implementation of its new constitution in 2010, which she suggested it largely failed at.
There was also some discussion of the environment, with the idea that competition for natural resources, such as oil and water, is creating conflict among ethnic groups. Obhrai mentioned the role of tribalism and colonial history as another root for conflict in the area. The fifteen minutes went quickly, ending with a poll on the audience about what was the most important issue facing the area. The overwhelming response from the audience was good governance.
The second segment focused on Canada’s private sector’s role in the area. The responsibility for this segment largely rested with Romaine, as he was the sole private sector panelist. He spoke of Nevsun’s work in Eritrea and pointed out their response to allegations of human rights abuses. He stated that they undertook their own human rights report in Eritrea, as well as not allowing workers under the National Service Contract in Eritrea to work at their mine.
Cotler rebutted by saying in his role in Parliament he had personally asked the owner of Nevsun about human rights violations and he believed these abuses had occurred, albeit unknowingly. He advocated for more regulation of the mining industry in Africa, which was quickly refuted by Romaine. The audience poll for this segment showed, however, that the audience very clearly did not believe Canadian companies’ soft approach was effective.
The final segment was directed towards Canada’s role in providing aid to the region. Obhrai suggested that Canada should play a larger role in building up civil society in the countries of the Horn of Africa. However, I believe the most poignant comments of the night belonged to Murray. She spoke as a South African, a country that had received much help from Canada while transitioning into democracy, saying that she believed that Canada should have stayed longer in South Africa. She believed this was important in transitioning areas because institutions take a long time to build. The forum ended on a largely positive and optimistic note. I found the panel to be an interesting insight into Canada’s role within the international realm and a much needed dialogue about its future in Africa.