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It was an unusual lecture last Friday for the students of Désirée McGraw's seminar course in International Development Studies. Students and others wishing to attend were expected to sign in and show ID as they entered in a single file to listen to guest speaker Robert Fowler, the Prime Minister of Canada's representative for the G8 Summit and for Africa.
PHOTO: Owen Egan
In collaboration with the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, McGraw had invited Fowler, Ambassador to Italy and previous ambassador to the United Nations, to be a part of her series of lectures titled "Governing Globalization."
This particular lecture was dubbed "60 days to Kananaskis" which Fowler remarked was "choquant" -- French for infuriating. He was referring to time's progression and that only 60 days remained before the Summit.
Africa was the main topic of his talk and it is expected to be a major subject in Kananaskis next June where representatives of the seven most powerful countries in the world and Russia will gather to discuss economic policies. The New Economic Partnership for African Development is one of three items featured on the agenda.
"Globalization is a reality, it is not an option unless you live in Africa" said Fowler. "Globalization simply isn't a part of the lives of Africans." Fowler late added, "Africa is an extremely wealthy continent and there are many reasons why investors should want to invest if the circumstances were right." Indeed it is estimated that within the next decade Western dependence on African oil will increase drastically.
Fowler stated that NEPAD was an African initiative. Investment is only part of the solution. A big concern with NEPAD is whether it can create long--term, sustainable, self--supporting growth.
"My shelves are groaning with 'fix Africa' proposals," stated Fowler. "When I left the UN, I thought Africa was at risk of disappearing from the international agenda." From his own standpoint, Fowler explained that it would be "immoral to neglect Africa."
"African civil society has not been consulted about NEPAD" an audience member remarked. "I agree that Africans are insufficiently aware but I don't agree that African governments are making no effort to change that" Fowler responded.
Members of the audience were concerned about the Western interest in Africa. Some brought up the Structural Adjustment Programmes and other instances where Western interference had been detrimental to Africa. One student asked "Has the leopard changed its spots?" referring to the issue of loan conditionalities, seen to have contributed to a dramatic reduction in public services.
Audience member and former McGill Political Science student Mehreen Khalfan, said "I'm glad to see Africa being taken seriously because I'm from Africa. After years of Afro--pessimism, years of thinking that Africa was a big failure and that there were too many systemic problems, there is a commitment to Africa."
McGraw commended Ambassador Fowler for his commitment to engaging Canadian civil society, adding that this is not part of his job requirements.