It sparked a small firestorm of controversy within Canadian international development circles, but Burkina Faso's new ambassador to Canada says he wants to see more partnerships like the one the Canadian International Development Agency started with the development NGO Plan Canada, and the Canadian gold giant IAMGOLD.
Critics questioned the ethics of the project and others like it announced last fall, arguing that the mining industry has a spotty environmental and human rights record that public money and development actors should not associate with.
"I think that it's just that when you don't understand something, you have apprehension," said the French-speaking Amadou Adrien Koné, who arrived in Canada March 13, replacing his longtime predecessor Juliette Bonkoungou-Yameogo, who left in February.
Mr. Koné said the $7.6 million IAMGOLD project is meant to give youth in Burkina Faso job skills training, not necessarily directly for them to work in the company's mining operations.
The country needs help with training workers and building its human resources, he said. And that's something the Canadian companies working there can help with.
Canada has been one of the biggest foreign private investors in the landlocked West African nation since 2008, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade website. Trade back and forth in goods has ballooned since 2006 to close to $55.5 million last year.
Burkina Faso is known for its large gold deposits. Canadian companies invest the most in the country's gold mining industry, said Mr. Koné, with the most significant being Toronto's IAMGOLD and the Quebec-based SEMAFO. They bring in revenue for the state, and help people to increase their standards of living.
But the country is also looking to diversify its economy, said Mr. Koné, rather than relying on mining.
"Canada has really helped us in the social domains, especially in education," he said.
Ranking near the bottom of the United Nations' human development index, the Canadian International Development Agency in 2010-11 disbursed nearly $35 million for Burkina Faso. Recently, it gave to help quell a regional food security crisis.
Mr. Koné can speak authoritatively on his country's human resources issues. He was its minister of work and social security from March 2010 to May 2011.
Before that, he was a top government adviser and an economic adviser to the country's president. Back in 2002, he also served as the minister of economy and development. He's been involved in Burkina Faso's government since the 1980s.
Mr. Koné is an economist who mostly trained in his native land. He's also travelled in Europe, notably Paris, and Africa, but not to North America.
He arrived at the start of spring, he says, so he has lots of time to prepare for his first real Canadian winter.
"I'm a little afraid," he said with a chuckle in his Range Road embassy office on May 11, with a cup of black coffee to his side.
"We Sahelians, we have 30, 40 degrees. Here it's -20."
Braving the next winter with him will be his wife and 17-year-old daughter, who have yet to arrive. He also has two older children who are independent, he said.
His overarching goal while in Canada is to reinforce the existing good relations, he said, and engage Canadian investors, to ensure an equitable "win-win" relationship between Canada and Burkina Faso.
Part of that relationship strengthening is through what diplomats call people-to-people ties. Students from Burkina Faso have studied in Quebec through 'exemption scholarship' arrangements in collaboration with the Quebec government, he said.
Mr. Koné said he wants to introduce more Canadians, and Canadian investors, to Africa. It's not very well known, he says, compared to Asia or Latin America. But if an investor goes there, sees there's stability and judicial security, then it will promote further economic relations. It's a job for him and all African ambassadors to familiarize Canadians with the continent, he said.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, he's also set to become more acquainted with Canada. So far, he hasn't travelled outside of Ontario, but hopes to visit Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and Vancouver, meeting with the Burkinabé diaspora along the way.
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