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Rebuking Canada’s African ColonialismRebuking Canada’s African Colonialism

Rebuking Canada’s African Colonialism

In conversation with Convivium contributor Jonathon Van Maren, former career diplomat David Mulroney says Canada’s residential school past should curb its neocolonialist urges in Africa.

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Topics: Foreign Policy, History, Government, Ethics, Human Dignity
Rebuking Canada’s African Colonialism April 6, 2021  |  By Jonathon Van Maren
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“[The Trudeau government] is using foreign policy as an exotic stage from which to tell stories to its supporters back in Canada. This is a really cynical political move.”

It is rare for a former Canadian diplomat to speak out against a sitting government; rarer still when that diplomat boasts the credentials of David Mulroney, who served as Ambassador of Canada to the People’s Republic of China from 2009 to 2012. In a more serious country, this would be major news.

Mulroney, who is a Distinguished Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, also served as Secretary to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (the Manley Panel). Earlier this year, he broke his silence on what he considers the Trudeau government’s aggressive and neocolonialist approach to Canada’s foreign aid, appearing in a documentary with Nigerian pro-life activist Obianuju Ekeocha titled Obsessed: Canada’s Coercive Diplomacy.

Mulroney’s perspectives are informed by his distinguished career in the Foreign Service, which he joined in 1981. His first diplomatic posting was Korea. “It was a really dramatic time,” he recalled. “The KAL 007 flight was shot down by the Soviets and to be in Korea during a time like that was very dramatic. It was impossible not to feel the shock and outrage of people.” That same year—1983—“half the South Korean cabinet was blown up in a bombing by the North Koreans, so it was tremendously interesting but also emotionally arresting to be there.”

Back in Canada, Mulroney studied Mandarin at the Canadian Forces Language School in Ottawa and was part of the small team that reopened the mission in Shanghai, which had been closed since about 1950. They rented four houses in the suburbs—three for the Canadians, and one for an office. The diplomatic bags were stored in the bathtub. This was in the runup to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. “Ideas were being debated and there was a feeling of excitement about political and economic possibilities. The political possibilities were extinguished by the massacre at Tiananmen.”

Mulroney also served in Malaysia and then in Taiwan, where the Kuomintang or KMT, which had ruled since fleeing to Taiwan as a defeated army after the Chinese Civil War, were finally dislodged “by a government who were much more in touch with the feelings of the people who had lived in Taiwan all along and felt that they were distinct and different.” Again, Mulroney had a ringside seat to history in the making. “It was intoxicating to be there in this wonderful election campaign when ideas were being debated,” he told me. “Anyone who says that a society that is culturally Chinese isn’t open to democracy or change needs to visit Taiwan.”

Mulroney is best-known for speaking out on China’s growing influence, most notably in his 2015 book Middle Power, Middle Kingdom: What Canadians Need to Know about China in the 21st Century, published by Penguin Random House. With the current crisis in relations between Ottawa and Beijing, Mulroney says he wouldn’t travel to China. Michael Kovrig, one of the two Canadians being held by the Communists, is a former diplomat, and it appears that China is accusing Kovrig in part for things he did as a public servant—a violation of diplomatic immunity. Mulroney, who has referred to China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang as a genocide, feels it would be unwise and probably unsafe to return.

Now, Mulroney is also speaking out on the Trudeau government’s approach to foreign aid, especially in Africa. After hearing Obianuju Ekeocha speak at the Newman Center at the University of Toronto and reading her book, Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-First Century, he began to look into the subject further. He was disturbed by what he found.

Many Canadians, he noted, are under the impression that Canada’s development work involves sending out Canadian aid workers. That is not the case. “Really, a lot of this is just cutting checks to Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, Pathfinders,” he told me. “These are groups that have their roots in the early 20th century in things like eugenics and racism. It’s a very bizarre Team Canada to be bringing to Africa.”

“As a former public servant, the problem I have with our ‘feminist foreign policy,’ in which abortion is central to our development work in Africa, is that good foreign policy and good development policy depend on actually listening to the people you’re trying to help or engage,” Mulroney explained. “We don’t appear to be doing this in Africa.”

“We’re going into countries that have shown significant opposition in their polling and in their laws to abortion, and when we announced our programs for Africa—which will come to about $750 million a year—we’ve identified one of our objectives as ‘addressing social norms,’ by which we mean changing them. Changing laws and regulations—despite the fact that these are African social norms and African laws and regulations.”

Mulroney also believes that the current Canadian approach to foreign aid is a disturbing indication that the government has not learned badly needed lessons from Canada’s recent past. Neo-colonialism, Mulroney told me, “is precisely what we promised not to do in the wake of the residential school discussions, and the self-education we appear to have done in the wake of the residential schools. We’re doing precisely the same thing in Africa, but on a much broader scale: We know best, we’re not interested in listening, and we’re going to change your society until it’s more like ours. There’s a high degree of hypocrisy in all of this.”

This new approach to foreign policy also reflects changing attitudes in the Foreign Service. When he first joined, Mulroney felt that despite the fact that he was joining a secular organization, “there was very little daylight between that organization and how it viewed the world and how I viewed the world as a Catholic.” Mulroney remembers when that began to change. The Harper government had asked him to determine what UN officials meant when they referred to “reproductive health.”

“I found that my colleagues were not straightforward,” he told me. “They wanted to know who wanted to know. I said: ‘The Prime Minister.’ They were very slow in getting to any kind of clarity about what they were doing. I began to see that what they were doing at the UN was very much in sync with what their colleagues in other countries were doing, the American diplomats and European diplomats and Australian diplomats. That was the community they served, as opposed to the Canadian government as elected by the people of Canada.”

Because of this, Mulroney believes that it will become increasingly difficult for religiously serious young people to join the Foreign Service. That is one of his reasons for speaking out on Canada’s new role as an abortion promoter in the developing world: on Twitter, at Right to Life dinners, in a documentary with Ekeocha. He’s not certain what the impact will be, but he is certain that it is the right thing to do. Canadians, he says, should be offended by the Trudeau government’s neo-colonialist policies in Africa—and should speak out about it.

Convivium publishes texts that do not necessarily reflect the views held by Cardus, the Convivium team, or its editors. In the spirit of discussion, dialogue, and debate, we ask readers to bear in mind that publication does not equal endorsement. Thanks for reading. Join the conversation! 

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