Saturday, March 31, 2007


Recently I attended meetings that left me wondering if Canada is really serious about doing business in Africa.

In all the meetings I detected a dearth of information on Africa as an investment destination and trade partner. I wonder what Canadian diplomats and companies already doing business in Africa are reporting back because it appears the government regards Africa in the mode of a hapless continent that can only be dealt with in terms of aid.

But if one cares to ask them, Africans will tell you that their priority is investment and trade.

A week ago I wrote about how CIDA could be abolished because it is considered to have failed to make a change in Africa and yet that determination is made without input from African beneficiaries.

Last Friday I attended a business roundtable discussion organized by the Canadian Council for Africa (CCA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFIAT).

It turned out that at a time when Europeans, Americans, Chinese and Indians are making a beeline to make business partnerships with Africa, Canada has reduced its incentives to businesses and is pulling out its commercial attaches.

This is because DFIAT lacks real time information on the business potential of Africa. For example, DFIAT has divided Sub-Sahara Africa into four investment and trade zones (south, east, west and north) with the main determinant being the availability of oil and minerals.

The zones show that DFIAT does not consider Africa a continent to do business with but a provider of resources.

It also shows that the department ignores information on the existence of investment and trade zones that Africa itself has set up under the African Union (AU). These are Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), East Africa Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

These groupings are used by the EU, China, the US and other investment and trade blocs to great rewards. Trying to circumvent these blocs will not help Canada and may actually be the reason Canadian businesses find it difficult to penetrate the African market because when they think they have satisfied requirements in one DFIAT zone, when they go from country to country they find different requirements they need to meet.

Another issue that came out in the meting was that DFIAT regards business related to education and health provision in Africa can only be provided under the humanitarian banner, hence its CIDA’s job.

Nothing could be far from the truth. Africa has long moved past the free education and health mode and investors from other countries are taking advantage, making a killing by opening up private institutions in Africa.

But DFIAT bureaucrats take orders from their political bosses. This is where the problem lies and it was articulated clearly at another meeting, on Saturday, which was called by Liberal MP, Keith Martin who is seeking support from Zimbabweans to re-launch his effort to have Mugabe indicted in Canadian courts as a war criminal.

Martin admitted that fellow politicians regard Zimbabwe and Africa in general as “a lost cause”, “a dead end”. I wonder whether the wars in Somalia and Sudan or civil unrest in Zimbabwe and other spots are enough for Canada to dismiss Africa totally like that or there is something else.

No matter, my point is that Africa is emerging as a business destination and Canada would best be advised to get involved or it will be left to rue the missed opportunity in a not so distant future.


1 comment:

Stefanie Carmichael said...

Great post. Africa is indeed on the tipping point of massive productivity gains. Those investors who get in now could be in for big rewards.