Defence minister says private sector investment necessary to help Mali rebuild
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 20, 2018 3:30PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 20, 2018 4:47PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Businesses can help war-torn countries such as Mali recover from conflicts by investing in projects there, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Tuesday.
Sajjan, who announced Canada's new UN peacekeeping mission in the west African country earlier this week, said broader economic development is also needed, because the military can't do it on its own.
His assessment comes as Canada's newly established development finance institution has announced its first private sector partnership. The US$10-million investment by FinDev Canada will bring electricity to millions of poor people in Kenya, in a more stable east Africa.
"We have to look at: How do you bring business into this, because they have the ability to look at things a lot differently?" Sajjan told The Canadian Press on Tuesday after testifying before the House of Commons defence committee.
"It's not just looking for the military to solve the conflict."
Sajjan said it is up to private companies to decide whether Mali is safe enough for investment.
"But I think the more security you have in a nation, the better investment is. There are already currently investments going into the nation and hopefully it will grow."
Earlier this week, Sajjan joined Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in announcing that Canada will contribute to the UN mission in Mali, which is struggling in the aftermath of a jihadist insurgency.
Canada's 12-month commitment will include about 250 personnel, two Chinook transport helicopters and four smaller, armed Griffon helicopters to act as escorts.
FinDev Canada announced its partnership with the Kenyan solar energy company, M-Kopa to bring electricity to millions of remote villagers who live off the grid on less than $2 a day.
Paul Lamontagne, FinDev's managing director, said the project will expand into neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda.
The plan will allow families to light their homes for three or four additional hours each day. That means girls can study at night so they stay in school and it will reduce needless deaths from cooking with kerosene in enclosed areas, he said.
That jibes with Canada's overall development priorities, which include promoting clean energy as well as an overarching feminist foreign policy, he said.
"It really makes a dent in lower carbon emissions," said Lamontagne.
"It hits the box in gender. The company employs lots of women. It touches the lives of lots of women and girls."
The M-Kopa project is worthwhile and will have a positive impact, said Liam Swiss, a development expert at Memorial University in St. John's, N.L.
But the fact that FinDev chose to invest in an established company in a relatively stable region of Africa doesn't bode well for the type of higher-risk investments that Sajjan is calling for in Mali and elsewhere, said Swiss.
"I suspect it's going to be more playing it safe and trying to invest in opportunities that are viewed as being less risky, less likely to be affected by conflict," said Swiss.
Sajjan said that on a recent trip to west Africa he saw business opportunities in Mali's agriculture sector.
He also told the committee that he wants to develop more defence partnerships with private companies to help the Canadian Forces solve the security problems of the future.