While a member of his Cabinet had sparked rumors of a possible involvement in the on-going crisis in Mali, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has officially ruled out what he termed to be any ‘direct’ military mission in Mali. During a press conference held on Parliament Hill, Mr. Harper noted that although Canada, a Nato member, is “very concerned about the situation,” it will instead concentrate its efforts in the region by providing humanitarian aid coupled with the use of diplomatic channels in order to offer assistance to the country. The news comes amidst an official visit by Beninian President Thomas Boni Yayi to Ottawa, where the current Chairman of the African Union (AU) inserted new urgency into finding a solution to the Malian crisis, citing that the current threat exceeds the scope of a planned African force. Although during the press conference Mr. Yayi indicated that he had welcomed the prime minister’s diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, the Canadian Press highlighted the fact that the two leaders disagree on the type of resolution that should be implemented in Mali. This was further emphasized by Mr. Yayi who went on to call for international help in order to curb the terror activity occurring in Africa, including asking for assistance from Nato troops.
Mr. Harper’s announcement of Canada’s intentions in Mali however fall directly in line with remarks made by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who indicated on Monday that Canada is “not contemplating a military mission” in Mali. Rumors of an involvement were sparked after Defence Minister Peter MacKay indicated just last week that Canada would be willing to send military trainers to Mali. So far, he has not made any comments with respect to Mr. Harper’s official announcement.
While Canada appears to be paving a way for minimal intervention, Mr. Harper is not the sole Nato leader who has been reluctant to send “boots on the ground.” In many ways, the timing of an upcoming mission in Mali comes at a time when many countries, such as the United States and several other Nato member states, are in the process of winding down combat in Afghanistan and therefore may be reluctant in re-sending troops to fight a new form of “jihadist war.” In turn Nato took on a second foreign intervention with the 2011 crisis in Libya. As such, it is highly likely that the body, along with its members, will proceed with a cautious approach when it comes to making the final call on Mali.
However it must be noted that while Mr. Harper’s official statement rules out “boots on the ground,” it has left some room for Ottawa to offer some form of assistance, which could greatly benefit Mali. Sources have indicated that foreign governments have held informal discussions with Canadian officials in regards to supplying a small number of military trainers that would assist the mission. In turn, some Western diplomats still believe that Canada will eventually deploy a small number of troops. However so far, the Canadian government has not elaborated on what less ‘direct’ military assistance Mr. Harper may eventually consider. For now, the country’s options are to contribute the necessary equipment that is required for air reconnaissance and logistical purposes, such as night-vision devices. Additionally, Canada has had experience in bringing APC’s into Africa, such as in 2005 when it supplied more than 100 armored vehicles to African peacekeepers in Darfur. Canada has also enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Mali as it has regularly contributed troops to a French-run military training centre there. In turn, sending Canadian troops would aid in liaising with the Malian army as some members speak both French and English, which is seen as a high advantage in a francophone country like Mali. Lastly, Mali was the scene of the 2008 kidnapping of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay. They were held hostage in the Sahara Desert for 130 days. Their kidnapping occurred around the same time of the kidnapping of two Europeans who were taken hostage by Islamists from the same group. They however were never released and were later killed in captivity. Al-Qaeda’s North African branch later claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the two Canadians. This incident has been seen by many as a key reason as to why Canadian foreign aid to Mali sharply increased from C$25 million to C$100 million annually.
Although the two leaders disagreed on several aspects pertaining to the Malian crisis, Mr. Harper and Mr. Yayi also discussed trade and investment between the two countries as well as how to promote economic growth throughout Africa. An area where they seemed to agree on as the pair had announced a new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) which will offer protection to investors in both countries which they hope will eventually boost the economic activity between the two nations. The new investment deal, according to Mr. Harper, “will increase investors confidence and bodes well for growth in both of our countries,” Additionally, Canada will also provide funds through the Canadian International Development Agency to aid Being with its structural reforms. It will also assist with efforts to increase the mining development.
Nevertheless, while Canada’s relations with Benin have been strengthened, the crisis in Mali continues to grow while the mission remains to be at a standstill. Overnight Monday, Malian soldiers fired warning shots at Islamist fighters near the town of Mopti, which is located some 650km (403 miles) northeast of the capital city of Bamako. Mopti is the first major town in the southern region of the country that has been hit.
It is therefore increasingly becoming apparent that while the AU and African nations begin to desperately call for a resolution on the Malian crisis before the situation grows completely out of control, many Western states seem to be more hesitant in quickly reacting and more comfortable in their “proceed with caution” role. Perhaps it is a lesson learned from history or perhaps this time, the West is simply not willing to fully engage in fighting this war.