From PM to corporate shill in Africa

If his predecessors’ trajectories are any indication, Stephen Harper will soon join a handful of corporate boards or a law firm and be paid handsomely to advance Canadian business interests in Africa. Almost every prime minister since Pierre Trudeau (Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin) left office and lobbied on behalf of Canadian corporate interests profiting from the continent.

Companies generally appoint politicians to their board of directors or contract their services through a law firm. The hope is that they can open doors. The smaller, poorer and more aid-dependent a nation, the more likely this is so.

When asked why he appointed Brian Mulroney to his board, Peter Munk, long-time chairman and founder of Barrick Gold, told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.” In March, former Conservative Foreign Minister John Baird joined Mulroney on Barrick’s international advisory board.

A month after leaving office in December 2003, Chrétien joined the law firm Heenan Blaikie and over the next 13 months traveled to Niger, Nigeria, Gambia, Angola and the Congo to advance the interests of its clients.

According to the Globe and Mail, Calgary-based TG World Energy hired Chrétien to help it “get out of a pickle in the impoverished African nation of Niger.” TG’s rights to explore 18 million acres of Niger’s wilderness for oil and gas were revoked by the government, which argued that TG failed to fulfill its investment targets. Niger then awarded the concession to a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corp.

The Calgary company sued Niger’s government and went to arbitration with the Chinese firm. “It also asked Mr. Chrétien to intervene,” reported the Globe and Mail. “The former prime minister spoke with officials of China National Petroleum during a trip to Beijing and then in March of 2004, he flew into Niamey, the Niger capital. In normal circumstances, the best TG World could have hoped to get on its own was a meeting with the energy minister. But Mr. Chrétien managed to snag a meeting with the president.” Chrétien’s lobbying led to a new agreement between TG World, Niger and the Chinese corporation, which saw the company’s stock increase from eight cents to more than a dollar within a year.

Chrétien used his reputation to advance Canadian corporate interests in Gambia as well. In 2004 he visited Gambian dictator Yahya Jammen to discuss offshore petroleum concessions for Calgary’s Buried Hill Energy. After the meeting, Chretien said: “I met the President, when I was the Prime Minister of Canada. … We have been negotiating with the government of The Gambia to find out if there is oil off-shore here. And it is a very complicated trial and we’ve made a lot of progress and we hope we can build the company if we negotiate.”

In 2014, the firm that employed Chrétien disintegrated. A Financial Post article headlined “How Heenan Blaikie’s Stunning Collapse Started with a Rogue African Arms Deal,” discusses how Chrétien and colleague Jacques Bouchard Jr.’s efforts to drum up African business sparked a rift within the law firm. But Chrétien’s services remained highly prized. Soon after Heenan Blaikie’s demise, Dentons Canada made Chrétien a partner and appointed him vice president of the law firm’s board of directors.

Former prime minister and long-time foreign affairs minister Joe Clark worked for several companies operating in various African countries. Clark helped a small Calgary-based company secure exploration rights for oil and gas in Tanzania and Mozambique. The company, Suprex Energy Corporation, sent out a press release in 1997 announcing they acquired these exploration rights “with the assistance of the Right Honourable Joe Clark and the Honourable Harvie Andre [another former Mulroney cabinet minister].”

First Quantum appointed Clark its special adviser for African affairs to lobby on its behalf in the Congo. He reportedly facilitated a 1998 meeting between Canadian officials and Congo’s Minister of Mines Frédéric Kibassa Maliba, and later pressured Canadian diplomats to demand a review of a 2002 UN report criticizing the manner in which First Quantum acquired its concession. Alongside his corporate work in the Congo, Clark engaged in diplomatic work and led the Carter Center’s delegation of election observers that gave Congo’s controversial 2007 presidential election its stamp of approval.

In Ghana, Clark used his name recognition as former chair of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa to assist Triton Logging secure the world’s largest underwater logging license. BC Business magazine reported: “Confronted by a former Canadian Prime Minister, the Ghanaians in the room are spellbound. Clark, who is a director of the Canadian Council of Africa, might as well be Canada’s sitting prime minister.”

Clark secured an agreement for Triton that had the potential to generate multiple billions of dollars, which also allotted the Vancouver-based company 80 per cent of all profits. Ghanaian Chronicle publisher Kofi Coomson criticized the generous deal and called on Clark to “do the right thing.” In an interview with BC Business, Coomson said: “Ghana’s interests should come first, and Mr. Clark’s personal interests come second.”

Clark remains influential on the continent partially because he continues to engage in African politics. His diplomatic roles have included leading international election observation teams in Cameroon, Congo and Nigeria.

Will Harper join the long line of Prime Ministers who’ve left office and profited from Africa?

This article first appeared in Ricochet

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