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Complex policies, triangular relationships: Edward Akuffo on the African Union, Canada, and NATO



Edward Akuffo is in the middle of an ongoing research project that picks up from his most recent book: Canadian Foreign Policy in Africa: Regional Approaches to Peace, Security, and Development. On top of department head and associate professorship responsibilities at UFV, Akuffo went to Ottawa in November 2016 and will be heading to the NATO headquarters in Brussels this year to continue his research.

The focus of his project is on the complex relationship between Canada, the African Union, and NATO — on which very little has been written. Akuffo also started the Politalk Roundtable Series at UFV which included discussions on the Brexit and the implications of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Here he shares some of his insight into the condition of Canada’s international policies in Africa.

You’re working on a project called “Triangular Relationship: African Union – NATO Cooperation and Canada’s Security Policy in Canada.” Can you help me unpack that title?

So what this project is about is it builds on my research on Canada’s security and foreign policy on the African continent. So I’m trying to build on this project to look at the changes that are taking place within Canadian foreign policy and security and the engagements on the African continent. Part of the whole pathos of this project is looking at what I call “triangular relationship.” The triangular relationship had to do with Canada’s bilateral relations with the African Union in promoting peace and security on the African continent, and Canada’s multilateral relations with the North Atlantic Trade Organization, NATO, and how that impacts Canada’s bilateral relations with the African Union, and looking at how NATO relations with the African Union itself also has its impact on Canadian policy. I call it triangular and it’s more complex in the interrelationships. So in a nutshell, that is what this project is about, looking at how policy at different levels impacts Canadian foreign policy and security policy in general.

In what kind of way do these relationships affect one another?

In all these different levels of engagement, Canada plays a significant role: at the bilateral level, Canada deals one-on-one with the African Union; at the multilateral level, Canada is a key member of NATO; and at an interregional level, being a key level, NATO, as a representative body of the North Atlantic Alliance, has a relationship with the African Union. We saw that in Darfur and we have seen more engaged relations with the African Union, to help to build the African Union’s standby force, and there have been several military operations and training exercises between African Union forces and NATO. The latest intervention, the very first NATO-led intervention on the African continent was in Libya in 2011, when it led to the overthrow and subsequent killing of Gaddafi, who was the leader of that country. So the project purpose here is to try and bring a more complex, nuanced understanding of Canada’s role on the African continent, to look at a set of factors that have not been looked at before, and so this is very original research that builds on the pioneering work that I did with the previous book.

What got you interested in this project?

I’ve been studying Canadian security and foreign policy ever since I came to Canada as an MA student at Brock University in 2002. So since 2002 my research has focused on Canadian security and foreign policy on the African continent. But I have a special interest in security issues because that is the area where there is not much being studied. The literature in Canadian security policy on the African continent is negligible. It might interest you to note that my book is the first single-authored book on Canadian security policy, looking at Canadian security policy’s role on the African continent.

Then this is something that really needs to happen now.

Yes, we really need the kind of research that I’m doing, not only because it is unique in the sense that it looks at the complex relationships of bilateral, multilateral, and interregional level, but within a globalized context, especially if we want to understand Canada’s role, we want to understand what Canada is doing in an international system, we really need to enrich ourselves with this kind of research. And I think it will be beneficial to not only academics but to policy makers and also to businesses that are interested in Canada’s economic relations with the African continent.

How do you think of Africa then, because it’s such a complex and diverse continent, aren’t there lots of nuances within the continent itself?

This doesn’t look at Africa as made up of states but it looks at the African Union. The analytical category here that I’m looking at is the African Union, which is the regional body. The operational definition of this regional body is a representative body of the diversity of Africa. So that is why I’m looking at the bilateral relations. I’m not looking at Canada’s bilateral relations with every single African state.

But in fact, you are absolutely right. Usually people talk about Africa as if it’s a state or it is a city; it is not a state neither is it a city. It is a continent made up of 54 independent states with several cultures, traditions, and religions, from the north to the south and the east to the west. So it’s a very diverse continent, rich in culture, rich in religion, and the social and economic development of the continent is also very diverse.

Because it’s a very original work then, are you uncovering things that you didn’t expect at all to see?

In fact, I’m uncovering many things that I did not expect to see at all. It’s very interesting that there is a discussion now for Canada to deploy peacekeeping troops to Mali. So one of the conditions that was set by the United Nations (which of course is the global body responsible for promoting international peace and security and had deployed United Nations troops in Mali) is that they were looking to a NATO member country to provide the leader. So you can see here that although this is a UN operation, the UN criteria is that in order to get somebody to be the commander of the forces, they are looking for this certain quality, or criteria — that the commander of the forces should be from a NATO member state. Canada’s name came up but as the Globe and Mail reported a few days ago, Canada seems to have missed that opportunity because it has dragged its feet in deploying troops to Mali. So this is a very interesting thing that is coming up in the research. Although it’s primarily a UN operation, the UN is trying to bring the idea of NATO, showing the important role that NATO plays in global security since the end of the Cold War. So it makes this research very, very important, and very, very timely, in the sense that it will help us to understand the role that Canada is playing on the African continent.

Does that say that the UN has a bias towards NATO ideals, in putting a NATO commander in a position of power?

Yes, the UN has made it quite clear that it needed a person with a certain level of experience and qualifications, someone who is able to use the kind of intelligence that they gather in Mali and to help operationalize that intelligence in dealing with the situation in that country. The UN finds that only NATO members have that kind of expertise, and therefore Canada will be able to do that. Actually, it’s important to mention that there have been two Canadian commanders in recent years who have actually led operations on the African continent: Roméo Dellaire in Rwanda in 1994 (of course that was not a very successful intervention because as we all know it couldn’t prevent a genocide in Rwanda), and there was another Canadian general who actually led a NATO operation in Libya and his name is Charles Bouchard. I think he’s retired now from the Canadian Army. So Canada really has been up there in terms of commanding huge forces on the African continent.

That’s interesting, I would expect them to want to go within Mali to find someone whom they could at the very least consult with if not lead the forces.

That’s right, in fact the deputy commander of the UN operation there is a Senegalese officer, but this Senegalese officer from what I’ve read so far doesn’t possess the kind of qualifications that the UN is looking for. The other thing though is that we shouldn’t lose sight of the power politics within the UN peacekeeping operation. The department of peacekeeping operations, usually it is the case that major states like Canada which make a significant contribution to peace operations have a little bit more say when it comes to the deployment of UN forces.  

Because we have more say, and we’re a big player in peace operations, does that mean that Canada can also say we’ll only help under certain and beneficial conditions?

Jean Chretien and also Stephen Harper made it quite clear that they were not going to deploy troops to the African continent, for different reasons. In the case of Jean Chretien, his government actually supported the African Union in deploying troops to Darfur. So one could say they supported materially and financially, and even provided some diplomatic support, to help the African Union to deploy troops to Darfur, in between 2003 and 2005. Now in the case of former prime minister Harper, he came to power at a time when the United States were trying to ramp up the war effort in Afghanistan, and Canada was heavily committed in Afghanistan, and with a declining defence budget and in terms of the current position of the Canadian Army, the prime minister I think found it quite, if you will, more strategic to support the combat in Afghanistan than to deploy troops on the African continent. But the underlying fact here is it does also tell us the strategic interests of the Canadian government, where its strategic interests are. So it’s part of geopolitics. The geopolitical interests of Canada, that it is more interested in aligning with the other major powers within NATO in Afghanistan than deploying troops on the African continent.

What conversations need to be had that relate to all this that aren’t being discussed in popular conversations?

I think the conversation that we really need to have and one of the key things I think that’s not being talked about is that the focus of discussions about Canada’s relations in Africa is perceived in a certain way. And that way is that the continent is poor, unstable, and therefore there is no material interest that Canada gets from the continent, but what is true, and what many people actually do not know is that Canada is the mining super power on the African continent. Canadian mining investment far exceeds any other country outside of Africa. It is estimated that this mining interest is over $20 billion and if we look at how it has grown, in the mid-1980s, Canada’s mining interest was around $300 million. Now between the mid-‘80s up to the present day it’s over $20 billion; it is the largest single investor in the African continent when it comes to mining possessions.

So it’s one of the conversations that’s not being had, and of course it is kind of a paradox. On one hand we have huge Canadian economic interest in the African continent, but on the other hand we don’t see much of Canadian security contributions towards the continent. But if we look at how the prime minister and the Liberal government has dragged its feet, announcing in June to the whole world that Canada was going to send 600 peacekeeping troops to Africa, but we haven’t seen that happen yet, it’s kind of mind boggling that we have such huge investment but we are unwilling to put Canadian troops on the ground in Africa to promote peace and security. And I think in relation to that, I would also like to see more conversation about what role Canada can play to prevent the spread of terrorism in Africa. Because terrorism is a global threat, it’s a threat to global security, and terrorist threats are indivisible in the sense that whether it happens on the African continent or happens here in Canada, it still impacts on Canada’s material interests around the world.

So do businesses, especially the mining industry, believe they benefit from the current state of instability? And would that make them reluctant to change the system or could they benefit in both conditions?

I think looking at what some scholars call “social responsibility” in terms of the role that mining interests or other business interests balance the economic pursuit with protection of the environment or human rights issues. I’d say it’s related with this whole security thing that I’m looking at. But whether they benefit directly and they see that as benefiting from the current instability, I think it will make more sense to argue that businesses will operate in conditions of peace. So in places like Ghana or Senegal or Liberia where Canadian mining interests are located, these countries are relatively stable so it encourages that.

But at the same time in Burkina Faso recently there was a terrorist attack which led to the killing of two Canadians. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo where there is an endemic violent conflict, and in Sudan where there is also a violent conflict, in these places and in Mali as well, I think it increases the operational costs of these mining companies. It increases the operational cost because they are forced to hire extra security in order to protect the mining sites. And that contributes to making their businesses more dangerous because there is no predictability of when the next bomb is going to go off. So I think, and that is why I said earlier that it is in the interest of the Canadian government, or it is even in the interest of these businesses, to lobby the government to do more and contribute more to creating security and stability in some of these places that I mentioned.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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