As global powers like China and Russia deepen their involvement in Africa, Canada stands at a pivotal juncture when it comes to its place on the world stage.  

In these times of shifting geopolitical landscapes and economic realignments, Canada must swiftly implement a comprehensive strategy that sets new diplomatic and economic priorities recognizing Africa’s significance beyond humanitarian gestures. It must seize the opportunities it presents, or risk marginalization.  

Strategic groundwork for enhanced engagement with Africa started in 2022, when the prime minister appointed Mary Ng, minister of Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development, to spearhead the Canada-Africa Economic Cooperation Strategy (CA-ECS).  

Over two years of extensive public consultations and resounding affirmations of Africa’s pivotal role as a partner, the strategy has regrettably failed to yield tangible progress.  

By comparison, Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is backed by a substantial $2.5-billion commitment. But the federal budget released in April allocated $900 million for humanitarian assistance, offering no support for the CA-ECS agenda. It is disappointing. 

The budget only reinforced the narrative that the African continent is dependent on international assistance rather than being an equal stakeholder in Canada’s international strategic vision.  

A working port with two cranes sits on the edge of a downtown area with lowrise, white-stone buildings. A lot of green trees line the streets. 
Djibouti, the capital of Djibouti. Shutterstock.com

Old habits die hard 

Canada continues to demonstrate its commitment to humanitarian principles and global engagement. This is anchored by actions and investments addressing pressing issues like climate change, economic development, and human rights.  

This approach stems from Canada’s desire to preserve the rules-based international order and strengthen its existing alliances. In Africa, this takes the shape of specific actions such as providing various forms of development assistance, advancing environmental efforts, and supporting LGBTQI+ rights.  

Again, while underscoring Canada’s commitment to fostering economic growth and stability in emerging regions, these actions ultimately reinforce the portrayal of Africa as a recipient of assistance rather than as a potential collaborator in Canada’s global strategy.  

Two- and three-storey homes make up the city with the coast in the distance.
Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. Shutterstock.com

Shifting approaches for mutual benefit 

A strategic shift in Canada’s engagement with African states and the African Union entails branching out while leveraging economic assistance and infrastructure development as tools for building political alliances. By investing in Africa’s development initiatives, Canada can position itself as a pivotal partner in the continent’s growth trajectory.  

Central to this recalibrated approach is recognizing Africa not merely as a Canadian humanitarian concern but as a region brimming with economic potential. With opportunities spanning renewable energy, critical minerals, and technological innovation, the continent presents a trillion-dollar economic opportunity for Canada.  

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Specific areas where Canadian expertise may be instrumental in fostering further advancement include governance, infrastructure development, and debt restructuring. 

As Canada faces emerging ‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äč‚Äčchallenges in regions like the Indo-Pacific‚Äč, Africa emerges as a critical arena for offsetting potential losses and securing new avenues for trade and investment.¬†¬†

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) stands as a prime example of the potential for collaboration between Canada and Africa, offering fertile ground for mutual gains. Through initiatives like the AfCFTA, Canada could tap into Africa’s burgeoning startup ecosystem and emerging digital economy, fostering innovation and economic growth on both continents.  

A new Canada-Africa policy has the capacity to unlock a plethora of opportunities for increased trade, investment, and innovation.  

For instance, enhancing agricultural trade could not only open Canadian markets to Africa’s diverse and high-quality produce but also foster food security and economic diversification in both regions.  

Similarly, collaborative ventures in the tech sector could enable African startups to benefit from Canadian expertise and funding, thereby driving innovation and creating job opportunities.  

Moreover, educational exchanges and research partnerships have the potential to bolster human capital, leading to advancements in health, engineering, and environmental sustainability.  

The stakes are high for Africa’s future, and Canada’s 

Crucially, Canada’s engagement with Africa must transcend transactional diplomacy and embrace a long-term vision rooted in shared values and aspirations. By championing partnerships inspired by principles of good governance, transparency, and inclusivity, Canada can foster sustainable development and mitigate risks associated with short-term gains.  

Moreover, by aligning with African states, Canada can build a coalition of like-minded nations that support Canadian values in the global arena. Astute diplomacy and informed vision will be key in this regard, to ensure Africa’s long-term prosperity and autonomy are recognized and prioritized. 

Most importantly, the time for action is now. Canada cannot afford to remain on the sidelines as Africa ascends on the global stage. If Canada fails to adopt this new strategy, it risks missing out on these lucrative opportunities, allowing other global powers to dominate Africa’s rising markets, relegating Canada to the periphery of an economically dynamic region. 

By recognizing Africa as not just a recipient of aid, but also as a dynamic and vibrant partner, Canada can unlock new opportunities for collaboration and contribute to the continent’s sustainable development while advancing its own interests on the world stage. 

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Templar Kalundu Iga is managing partner at Preponderant Advisory, an Africa-focused consultancy, and executive director of the‚ÄĮCanadian Centre for African Affairs and Policy Research.¬†¬†¬†

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