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Trudeau to be first Canadian PM to attend African Union, but can he reset relations?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left Thursday for a trip to Africa, where he will be the first Canadian prime minister to participate in a session of the African Union.

With just five months left before the United Nations Security Council vote, Trudeau’s trip is widely expected to be focused on wooing African support for Canada’s bid for one of the two available temporary seats.

At a briefing for media prior to the trip, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged the security council vote is one reason for the journey. But they also said building stronger relationships overall, finding opportunities for Canadian business, and engaging on issues like climate change and the empowerment of women and girls are all part of the agenda.

The officials at the briefing spoke only on the condition they not be identified.

Trudeau will start in Ethiopia, the continent’s fastest-growing economy, which is the headquarters of the African Union.

He intends to meet individually with a number of African leaders on the margins of the gathering, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and attend discussions on gender equality and the environment.

He later goes to Senegal for an official visit, where he will meet with President Macky Sall. Senegal is one of the most influential African nations in the Francophonie group of countries.

Trudeau is also stopping in Munich, Germany to attend part of an international security conference before he returns to Canada.

African scholars and Canadian foreign affairs experts say Canada needs to rethink their Africa policies and put forward a new strategy for the continent.

“I’m hoping this trip will be, for the prime minister, a chance to reset the relationship,” said Thomas Tieku, a professor of politics with a focus on Africa at Western University in London, Ont.

Tieku is not alone when he says Canada needs to completely overhaul its efforts in Africa, from how it delivers aid to its diplomatic presence and to its economic ties.

“Africa has changed for good and forever,” said Alice Musabende, a former Canadian parliamentary journalist who is completing her PhD in international relations with African states at Dalhousie University and Cambridge University.

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