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Remarks to Africa Society Conference

Notes for remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa) at the closing ceremony of the conference on Africa organized by the Africa Society at the University of Alberta in Edmonton on Sunday, February 28, 1999

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this closing session of your conference on Africa. I had this distinct pleasure last year as well and am delighted to have been asked to take part again this year.

Canadians have always been interested in Africa. Both through the presence of missionary organizations and the Canadian Development Program, we have played an important role in Africa’s evolution. We see this interest typified today by interchanges such as have occurred during several visits in the last year and the first-ever visit by a Canadian Governor General to Africa.

In order to take full advantage of the opportunities for both Canada and the African countries which an expansion of these relations would bring, it is important that Canadians be well informed about the momentous developments occurring on the African continent.

And I am not only talking about the bad news developments, of which we’re all too familiar – most recently emanating from Sierra Leone, Congo, Angola and on the Ethiopian/Eritrean border where war has broken out. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Canada, we are more directly involved in these tragic events now than recently due to the fact that Canada has taken up one of the temporary seats on the United Nations Security Council and the search for peace and human security in these events are dominating the Council’s agenda. While it is tragic, it nevertheless represents an opportunity for Canada to further its human security agenda on the continent in a more vigorous way.

Although a number of African countries have been beset by political instability and conflict since I spoke to you last February, it is important to recognize that the portrayal of these events in the media does not represent the whole picture. Africa is a huge continent in transition. On balance, the good news you don’t bear about probably outweighs the bad which we too often hear about and which dominate Western media.

Let me expand. The majority of African countries are at peace and undertaking rapid but positive political and economic changes. Africa is a continent in transition. There are many positive political trends, not the least of which is the continued progress towards democratization and good governance throughout the continent.

Undoubtedly, the one of the most heartening stories coming out of Africa these days is what is what is happening in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. We have seen the recent interim military government commit yet again to the restoration of democracy and so far deliver. We just witnessed successful Parliamentary elections earlier this month and this very weekend, the Presidential elections were successfully concluded. To match these significant changes, there is much talk of Nigeria rejoining the Commonwealth as an active and full partner.

And where there is conflict, Africans themselves are taking the lead responsibility for making peace and creating African solutions. This marks a significant change.

Despite the turmoil, Africa is also experiencing significant economic growth, which appears all the more impressive when compared to the downturn and economic turbulence experienced in the last year in Asia and Latin America. Recent growth rates in some African countries such as Botswana, Uganda and Mozambique rival those of the top performers in the world. South Africa has also enjoyed moderately positive growth despite the heavy adjustment occurring in the transition to the post-apartheid model – an impressive achievement.

The changes have been brought about, in no small part, by the recognition by African business leaders and decision makers that growth and prosperity are linked to the Western market economy model. Many countries have liberalized and opened up their economies in the last several years and are now creating wealth for their populations at impressive rates.

These economic changes have also fostered the growth of an emerging consumer/business middle class on the continent. The sophistication of this new generation of economic leaders will create further impetus for change, both economic and political.

In witnessing this impressive progress, which is often lost in the negative stories which so dominate media coverage of Africa, it is necessary to remember that Canada is not just bearing witness to this transformation, but remains strongly committed to a partnership of change with the continent. Our commitment is multidimensional, durable and increasingly complex. While Canada’s aid programs throughout the continent remain important, they are, more and more, twinned with significant private sector trade and investment links, security cooperation and a denser, more sophisticated network of civil society linkages.

Canada’s place in the "new" Africa, or as some African leaders have called it, the African renaissance has not occurred by chance. It is not a coincidence that Canada’s long presence in Africa is rooted in a shared cooperation with these countries in the three sectors of represented by the themes for this conference: education; development and governance. It is also very likely that the changes in Africa were greatly accelerated by a generation of new African leaders who have benefitted from a Canadian presence in these sectors.

I can, in fact, bear witness to Canada’s participation in some of the transformations taking place in Africa on my several visits to Africa in the last year.

One particular initiative struck me as singularly relevant and effective. The Canadian federal, provincial and municipal governments, in cooperation with the private sector have developed a school-based INTRANET throughout Canada linking all of our education institutions. In the last year, a Canadian initiative, led by a Canadian consortium, has begun to work with the South African Government and educational institutions to create a similar network in South and Southern Africa which would then be linked to the Canadian network. I was able to witness this project first hand in South Africa and the result among the young black high school students was, indeed, impressive. Projects such as these will help a whole generation of seriously disadvantaged catch up all the more quickly.

In our development program, we are seeing much more involvement in private sector initiatives which not only take advantage of the new-found economic dynamism on the continent but also serve to foster or create more momentum in private sector wealth creation. Thus, while the aid program remains concerned with poverty alleviation, the emphasis on entrepreneurial private sector solutions to alleviate poverty through job creation is gaining prominence.

In conclusion, I would like to say again how delighted and honoured I feel to have been asked again this year to participate in this important conference and its work. I congratulate all of the organizers and participants for having produced such serious, timely and stimulating discussion.

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