The film “Obsessed: Canada’s Coercive Diplomacy” explores the possibility that Canada’s foreign aid to Africa may be doing more harm than good, pushing abortion as a key component of sexual and reproductive rights.
The film, which premiered Jan. 17, features a roughly 90-minute conversation between filmmaker Obianuju Ekeocha, who is also an author and a global human rights activist, and David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China and former associate deputy minister of foreign affairs.
In the film, Ekeocha, a native of Nigeria, said she noted that Canada’s foreign policy began to change after the 2015 federal election. She had never seen such a “feminist foreign policy” before from a Western country.
“But what made it terrible, or unfortunate, is that it’s not only that the Canadian government is bringing in this Western-conceived idea or ideal of feminism, or their own definition of what feminism is, the Canadian government brought it in with a force of money … this thing they’re calling the feminist foreign policy,” Ekeocha said.
Mulroney echoed Ekeocha’s sentiments, noting that Canada has been blatant about this. Canada’s foreign aid would be based not on listening mode, but on broadcast mode, he said.
“It is important—and historic—that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim themselves as feminists,” said Chrystia Freeland in her 2017 message introducing Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, when she was the foreign affairs minister. “This includes sexual and reproductive rights—and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
Canada could be doing to Africa what China is doing to Canada—being assertive with its economic clout so as to suppress opposing voices—Mulroney said.
“We too may be guilty of a form of ideological colonization,” he said.
According to Ekeocha, Canada tops the list of countries imposing ideological colonialism on Africa.
“When we talk about an initiative that will remove from the population a whole generation of African boys and girls to abortion—[we] describe this as a ‘health-care initiative.’ So that sense that we’re engaging in coercive diplomacy is stronger in me as a result of my conversation with ‘Uju’ [Ekeocha],” Mulroney said.
Ekeocha also pointed out that abortion is not legal in most African countries. The majority of Africans reject it because of their cultural beliefs, and this is why the new focus of aid from the Canadian government is problematic, she said.
Ekeocha explained how Africans attach a high value to human life and the connection between past and future generations—it goes back to their cultural views and values.
“Africans also believe so strongly in the fact that the baby in the womb is already alive. The baby in the womb is human,” she said.
Getting Foreign Aid Right
The criteria of good foreign aid, Mulroney said, begins with the donor needing to listen to the needs of the recipient and not slipping into the “I know best” trap. He added that the donor must approach the process with modesty and humility and have the objective of providing transitional aid, so that the recipients are able to stand on their own two feet in the long run.
In contrast, Ekeocha’s experience with international aid has led her to say “the paternalism is incredible.”
“They [donors] are really trying to create another … region in their own image and likeness. … They consider us like a cultural vacuum,” she said.
Another issue with foreign aid, Mulroney said, is that it can be driven by a target—like the benchmark 0.7 percent of gross national income—with the focus primarily on getting money out the door rather than considering how it is spent.
Africa is in dire need of infrastructure, health care, and education. More money is needed for law enforcement and efforts to deal with terrorism. Ekeocha emphasized that abortion is not the solution—especially when economies are reeling from the pandemic—and money spent on what the people do not want or need is wasteful. Canadian taxpayers should demand transparency from the government on this, she said.
She also noted that Africans are not applauding Canada’s feminist foreign policy.
“The only people applauding the Canadian government, the only people excited about what the Canadian government is doing, are the activists—the radical activists in the West. And that’s because the Canadian government is achieving their dream across the African continent,” she said.
Ekeocha encourages Canadians to talk to their MPs and ask how their tax dollars are being spent as a part of foreign aid and the effects achieved.
“It would be a shame if your [Canadians’] generosity is not really getting to the point of improving lives but rather harming lives in the different parts of the world. We should do better.”