Vancouver Sun

Mali and Canada: A link forged in history and ice

- ELIZABETH PAYNE POSTMEDIA NEWS

In the past month 20 UN peacekeepe­rs have been killed and dozens more injured in northern Mali, a simmering, sometimes forgotten front in the global war on terror.

While Canada spent more than a decade in Afghanista­n and this week joined the U. S.led bombing campaign against the Islamic State in the Iraq theatre, there is no Canadian military presence in Mali, nor are there any plans for one. But Canada does have a role to play in the region, Canadian officials say.

Special relationsh­ip

The country, which is home to the ancient city of Timbuktu among other wonders, is not exactly a tourism draw for Canadians, especially since the jihadist- fuelled political crisis erupted in 2012.

Canada’s special relationsh­ip with the landlocked former French colony largely flies under the radar at home, but it is strong and growing, based on a shared language, shared developmen­t goals, business interests and many individual friendship­s.

That relationsh­ip was never more poignantly illustrate­d than in 1998 when residents of a poor rural village of mudbrick houses collected the equivalent of $ 100 to send to their sister community in Quebec whose residents were suffering through the ice storm.

Along with the 40,000 West African francs they collected, villagers from Sanankorob­a composed a note of sympathy, which they faxed to the town of Saint- Elisabeth, Que.

Quebecers had earlier helped the Malian village when it experience­d floods. They also shared agricultur­al knowledge that has helped the village become nearly self- sufficient. Although more than half of Malians live on less than $ 1.25 US a day, the villagers wanted to repay the generosity.

Today, Mali is trying to recover from what residents refer to as “the crisis,” a jihadist uprising in the north that culminated in a military coup d’etat on March 22, 2012. Canada sent a transport plane to assist French troops in the fight against the jihadists but turned down a request to send peacekeepe­rs.

There have since been peaceful elections and jihadists have been largely contained to one region far from the capital, but the instabilit­y remains in parts of northern Mali. Drug dealers, who have appropriat­ed ancient trade routes in the desert to ship cocaine and other drugs, have made the situation more dangerous.

At a time when Islamic extremists, Ebola and other threats are destabiliz­ing the region, a peaceful, democratic Mali would serve as an important model and stabilizin­g force in West Africa.

Mining royalties

Canadian expertise includes developing government institutio­ns, agricultur­e and business, as well as reducing maternal and newborn deaths.

And, significan­tly, a number of Canadian companies have mining operations in Mali.

Mali is Africa’s third- largest gold producer, and there are more than a dozen Canadian mining and exploratio­n firms operating in the country, according to Natural Resources Canada, with assets valued at more than $ 230 million.

Mining royalties contribute significan­tly to the country’s coffers, according to Canadian officials. Canadian companies have also provided technical assistance, including in the use of co- operatives as a tool of developmen­t.

Mali is a “country of focus” for Canadian developmen­t efforts, which means it is a priority. That favoured status was recently reconfirme­d.

 ?? HABIBOU KOUYATE/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES ?? The bodies of UN soldiers killed during a mission in Mali are carried to their burial sites in Bamako, the capital. Canada’s relationsh­ip with the former French colony flies largely under the radar.
HABIBOU KOUYATE/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES The bodies of UN soldiers killed during a mission in Mali are carried to their burial sites in Bamako, the capital. Canada’s relationsh­ip with the former French colony flies largely under the radar.

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