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CIDA List Cut Raises Questions: Cameroon Envoy

By Michelle Collins      

The Canadian government's decision to remove Cameroon as a development partner in its revised list of 20 focus countries is "a little blow" to the longstanding friendship the two countries share, says new High Commissioner Anu'a-Gheyle Solomon Azoh-Mbi.

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The Canadian government's decision to remove Cameroon as a development partner in its revised list of 20 focus countries is "a little blow" to the longstanding friendship the two countries share, says new High Commissioner Anu'a-Gheyle Solomon Azoh-Mbi.

Several months into his first ambassadorial posting to Canada, Mr. Azoh-Mbi says he did not expect Cameroon would be removed from CIDA's list of development partners.

Mr. Azoh-Mbi says that although Cameroon may have recently "graduated from the heavily indebted poor countries initiative," it is too early for privileged bilateral partners to rescind their presence when they're needed most. "We are just about taking off and we need to get to the crossing point," he says.

The two countries have a close bilateral relationship; both have official French and English heritage, while Canada sponsored Cameroon's admission into the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, and opened its first sub-Saharan mission in the capital Yaoundé in 1962. As a result, Mr. Azoh-Mbi says that, as a Cameroonian, he has always felt a psychological complicity with Canada.

"I must say that this decision was a little blow to that and is leading to question marks; what's happening with our privileged relationship, what's happening to one of our best friends?" he says. "I relayed my concern to the minister about the psychological importance of sending the right message that Canada is standing by Cameroon."

Mr. Azoh-Mbi says CIDA Minister Bev Oda telephoned him about the decision in February and explained that the Canadian government wants to streamline its policy, channelling Canadian aid to select focus countries. He emphasized that he respects the changes are a sovereign decision taken by a sovereign government.

"I did indeed relay concerns about possible misinterpretations that could come from this decision," he says. "Because some quarters are likely going to say, 'Oh you've been dropped and you've been relegated,' and they may think in some quarters that we have been faulted for one thing or for another. But [Ms. Oda] assured me there was no such thing."

Canada's aid work in Cameroon has included strengthening economic governance, supporting democratic reforms, creating an independent national election commission and even helping to broker a peaceful resolution of the Cameroon-Nigeria border dispute in the Bakassi peninsula. And, high profile Canadians such as former prime minister Joe Clark and former secretary of state for Africa Christine Stewart, have been prominent supporters of Cameroon's democratic progress.

Although no longer a development partner, Mr. Azoh-Mbi says there are vast opportunities open to the two countries, in particular in Cameroon's mining sector where Canada already has significant corporate interests.

"Canada would need Cameroon just as much as Cameroon needs Canada," he says. Mr. Azoh-Mbi would know.

Before becoming high commissioner to Canada, Mr. Azoh-Mbi, a career diplomat, spent 20 years as a senior diplomatic adviser to the president of Cameroon. In this role, he was responsible for overseeing Cameroon's foreign missions and diplomacy, as well as relations with the Commonwealth, including with Canada.

"In my previous functions, I had four or five visits to Canada before coming to Ottawa. I visited Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec," he says. "Canada is a world power in many domains, especially in science and technology, [and] in mining. I'm looking at tapping on that."

Mr. Azoh-Mbi says he would like to see Canadian companies expand their mining interests into new areas in Cameroon and, in particular, do more in the training of locals.

Shortly after arriving in Ottawa, Mr. Azoh-Mbi says, he had a fruitful meeting at Natural Resources Canada. Officials there have amassed very detailed data of Cameroon's resource potential and even offered some recommendations. He said Cameroonian President Paul Biya is committed to collecting geological data and maps, and that Canada's input has been especially helpful.

As high commissioner, Mr. Azoh-Mbi says he is committed to fostering Cameroon-Canada relations. He says he would particularly like to see greater interaction between the leaders and administrative authorities at the highest levels. He will also work to promote more business relations, social, cultural and educational links, he says.

Mr. Azoh-Mbi and his wife Mercy have five children. Their two youngest, a two-year-old daughter and 14-month-old son, are with them in Ottawa.

mcollins@embassymag.ca

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