Seven African leaders, including those from Rwanda, Burkina Faso, and Madagascar, met at “Francophone Africa: An Economy in Full Growth” in Montreal Monday. The event was organized by the Canadian Council on Africa and the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
“[The conference] affords the African side a platform to present our vision of development and to seek Canadian business partners who are able to understand our needs and can engage in mutually beneficial ventures,” said Saaka Minimaana, the vice-president of the African Diaspora Association of Canada (ADAC).
The seven important figures only drew in a small number of students, buisness persons, and guests. There was no overt security presence at the event, though there were several protestors outside from the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA).
The protestors questioned the legitimacy of the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, who spoke at the event. Compaoré was responsible for the violent 1987 coup and alledgedly the murder of the iconic president at the time, Thomas Sankara, and 12 other officials.
“[Sankara] wanted to go against the system and cut off imperialistic ties. He went against a system still going on today,” said Djbril Ndiaye, a member of GRILA.
Ndiaye added that Compaoré’s presence was representative of the lack of knowledge around trade in Africa. He felt that awareness was needed to change the current terms of trade with western investors and the African elite.
Aziz Fall, a member of GRILA and the coordinator of the international campaign Justice for Sankara at the United Nations, agreed.
“As with apartheid, you have to know where your money is going. The conference represents a neo-liberal agenda where Africa is easy access for investment. It is a continuation of the colonial legacy, but with a new disguise,” he said.
But while the conference touched momentarily on conflict resolution and issues surrounding development, the main focus was bilateral investment opportunities and the marketing of one’s country.
“You are selling a product. That is, your country as an investment destination, but also competing with your other African counterparts for investment dollars,” said Minimaana. He felt that businesses should be aware of different realities, but ultimately can either choose to take something into account or not.
In spite of the business-driven appeal of the conference, problems were also acknowledged.
Marc Ravalomana, the president of Madagascar, reiterated the importance of Canada and globalization. He profiled the improvements his country was currently undertaking to minimize corruption and improve infrastructure.
“We have a ferocious struggle against corruption,” said Jean Louis-Roy, the President of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in his opening speech. “Corruption is one of the things we share most in our world today.”