Yves Engler’s latest book, Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, continues this author’s relentless work not only of speaking truth to power, but also of telling Canadians the truth about themselves.
Near the end of his latest compilation of research, Yves Engler sums up the narrative he has brought to light. The story of Canada’s governmental and business dealings in Africa, he says, “is one long (mostly unbroken) line of exploitation by Canadians of African people and resources.”
It is a sordid history that begins with the British Empire and graduates of the Royal Military College here helping successive British governments pillage African lands. Then, in more recent times, Canadian officials became loyal followers of the American Empire, putting their political loyalties to NATO and anti-communism before any real concern for Africans and their daily dilemmas. Along the way, Anglophone protestant missionaries and Francophone priests in Africa conveyed their “civilizing mission” to the “savages” that they spoke of in their letters when they reported back home to kith and kin in Canada beyond the sea.
Engler’s account shows in accumulated factual detail how that imperial heritage has, in the last generation, spawned a whole new era of grotesque neo-colonialism centred on Canadian business activity in the mining and energy sectors. The prize is to extract, manage, and sell the resources of a whole continent in which most people live on less than $2 per capita per day. In case after case, Engler shows how Canadians have cheated Africans through a carefully organized web of tax evasion, bribery, bad faith and outright violence. The environment has suffered enormous depredation; small farmers and workers have lost their livelihoods; labour unions have been castigated and sovereign governments gravely weakened. It is amazing to read Engler’s pages and find the names of Canadian public figures who are still respected, and yet who have been drawn into the morbid lust for easy loot.
Like the renowned Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, Engler likes to compile detail upon detail in order to build his story. His main method is to catalogue the facts, but the result is not a Homeric type of catalogue, which is typically a long list of the gloriously brave. Canada in Africa is a catalogue of dishonour.
Engler says that he uses voice recognition software to write, so this latest work is indeed a kind of recitation, and the author-cataloguist takes quite a time to get going. Chapter 10 – “Mining Conflict” – is when the story really starts moving, with detailed reports about Canadian business in a host of countries: Burkina Faso, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Western Sahara and Zambia. At the beginning of the chapter, even Engler confesses how tiring the process of gathering the research data has been. He forewarns us that the “information that follows may be exhausting, but it is not exhaustive,” and explains that he has assembled his data “to illustrate the scale of Canadian mining activity and its effects.”
Canada in Africa describes a system of business activity with terrible structural consequences, and he wants his fellow Canadians to know about this behemoth.
First, there is the pre-eminent role of Canadian mining enterprises. By 2011, Engler stresses, Canadian mining investment in African economies “had surpassed $31 billion,” and he underlines that “Canada, not China, is the leading international resource investor in Africa.”
Secondly, the scale is vast: “With mines in at least 35 African countries, Canadian companies operate over 700 mineral projects across the continent.”
Thirdly, these companies have their shares traded on Canadian stock exchanges, since “Canada is home to half of all internationally listed mining companies operating in Africa.”
The essence of this system is that a select group of well-known people in Canada own, control and manage the one financial element that Africa lacks – capital. Through connections with national and international agencies, an elaborate number of pressures are used to mould the behaviour of African politicians and partners. Typically, lenders of capital and aid insist on privatization of a resource, and often the Canadian experts who engineer the credit and insist on the conditionality of loans are the same people who reap the profits from consulting fees and resource extraction.
Finally, the immense amount of money accumulated enters the off-shore network of bank accounts in places such as the Cayman Islands to ensure that neither African governments, nor the Canadian government, will tax these already inflated profits. It is no accident that royalty fees in Africa are much like what they are in Québec – below 5%. Our absurd mining regime has been successfully exported and turned into an all-Africa scheme to churn out money for the few – here – at the expense of the many – there. And all at the expense of the African environment as well.
Little wonder, then, that Engler points to the judgement of the director of Global Financial Integrity, Mr. Raymond Barker, who calls this off-shore financial system in African mining “the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery.”
That is the shaming message of Canada in Africa.
Yves Engler is a Montreal writer and activist. Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation (Fernwood Publishing, RED Publishing, 2015) is his eighth book, two of which have been co-authored. Perhaps his best-known works are The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.