French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 7, 2019. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool/REUTERS)

Canada to get observer status at Sahel Alliance, Trudeau promises Macron

In a move seen as an attempt to blunt criticism of Canada’s decision not to extend its peacekeeping mission in Mali, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured French President Emmanuel Macron Friday that Ottawa plans to step up its engagement in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ottawa’s decision to turn down a UN request to extend its peacekeeping mission in Mali by a few weeks, to allow the Romanian contingent that’s coming to replace Canadian medevac crews to get fully operational, has irritated key European allies, including France, Germany and Netherlands, especially given Trudeau’s rhetoric of Canada’s re-engagement with peacekeeping operations.

However, during a meeting with the French president, Trudeau told Macron that Canada will seek an observer status in the Sahel Alliance, an international organization that aims to stabilize a belt of insecurity running through almost the entire length of sub-Saharan Africa with targeted investments in nearly 600 development projects.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R Rear) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L Rear), stand as from L-R, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, European Commission Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and German Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth sign documents during the launch of the “Alliance for Sahel” at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. (Patrick Kovarik/Pool/REUTERS)

The Sahel Alliance, which was launched two years ago by France, Germany and the European Union, seeks to help stabilize the five Sahel countries—Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad—facing chronic insecurity, rising extremism and terrorist threats, lack of economic prospects and access to education, jobs and essential services such as water and electricity.

The alliance also includes the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Denmark and Netherlands have also joined the alliance.

It’s unclear what Canada’s observer status at the Sahel Alliance will entail and whether it will require additional funding announcements to support the organization’s projects in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.

The Sahel Alliance development and capacity building projects are targeted in six priority fields: education and youth employment; agriculture, rural development, food security; energy and climate; governance; decentralization and basic services; and internal security.

The alliance plans to implement over 600 projects by 2022, with global funding of €9 billion ($13.5 billion Cdn).

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