The Legacy of the Canadian Council on Africa

The tough task of convincing Canada to invest in Africa.

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Shipping containers as seen stacked at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in Philadelphia.

My counterpart in Canada, Lucien Bradet, has resigned abruptly, but wisely it would seem. He had a heart attack last year, but in his dedication to the Canadian Council on Africa (CCAfrique), the organization for Canadian investment and trade with Africa, he stayed on this year.

As he confided in me, the tensions of trying to keep an organization together became more than he wanted to carry any longer, lest he have another heart attack. Lucien has a farm in Quebec and on more than one occasion I suggested that he should take advantage of that and the Canadian pension system. He finally listened to someone, probably not me, but perhaps to a voice inside himself. I received a note last week that he would not be attending any more yearly meetings of the Business Councils on Africa. Canada has lost a voice for Africa and it was a resounding one at that.

Lucien has been the voice of Canadian business in Africa for more than 10 years. There really has been no other voice. He will be difficult to replace, because his job requires a tenacious dedication. He was not simply an advocate for Canadians doing business with and in Africa, but he was a voice for Africa in Canada. There were and are few other Canadians making the case for Africa as Lucien has done this past decade.

Last year CCAfrique celebrated its 10th year. I do take some responsibility for the founding, as I met with their core group on three occasions – twice in Washington and once in Ottawa – before they founded CCAfrique, and I was the keynoter at their first two national meetings in Toronto and Montreal, respectively. (At their tenth anniversary, Lucien invited our chairman of the board.)

Tim McCoy, then on our staff, accompanied me to the Montreal meeting, their second annual meeting, and told me that my speech was good but too long. He was probably right. I thought the Toronto speech, the first one, was much better. However, it was Lucien who built the organization, caring about it as if it were his son or daughter. In a way it was.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Lucien was and is a strong Francophile and an obvious testament to the continuing deep split and resentment between French and English-speaking Canadians. Even though fluent in English, with a strong French accent, he would insist on speaking in French to English speaking staff in hotels in Ontario, forcing them to acknowledge him as well as listen carefully to him. O Canada. Yet, Lucien was an equal opportunity recruiter and played no favorites, bringing in companies from Quebec and Ontario and other provinces alike.

He was a Canadian and in many ways he was African, for his love for Africa was also beyond question. He was a proud Quebecois, but he was and is also a proud Canadian. He was passionate in his beliefs and reluctant to compromise. He had a vision and acted upon that vision. He spoke as much with his arms and hands, and a fire in his eyes, as he did with an excited voice. He was a sight to behold as he gesticulated why Canada needed to be engaged more with Africa. He lobbied government as tenaciously as he lobbied the private sector, and he sold his vision to businesses across Canada. There were few like him in Canada.

His dedication to Africa was beyond any question. For ten years, as a founder, he lived and breathed CCAfrique and its mission. He often called me for advice on a gamut of matters and sometimes he actually accepted that advice. Like many founders, he took on every aspect of the organization. He built it into more than 100 members, although membership rates in CCAfrique are much lower than the American counterpart. For that reason, he was always struggling to find money to keep the organization going, sometimes wondering how to get through the month.

I urged him to increase membership rates, but he believed many Canadian businesses wouldn't pay higher rates for an organization working on Africa. Maybe he was right. I don't know. I do know there was a period of two or three months on at least one occasion that he did not pay his own salary in order to keep the organization going. His challenge is like many other organizations, including ours at times. It becomes easier to raise money if you are willing to give funders a piece of the vision, but too often funders take over the vision and the organization is never the same. It loses its heart.

There are times to take money from others, and there are times to move on without it. Lucien knew this, and so he struggled and worried, taking his worries home with him, and waking up with those worries during the night and facing them still in the morning.

One hopes that Lucien has many more years ahead of him, and that fate allows him to enjoy the farm, to take the time to watch the crops grow as he reflects on his own life, and especially the last ten years he spent nurturing CCAfrique. He has grown an important organization in Canada, and now let us hope that what he has built will continue, and that the organization, like the national symbol, the maple tree, takes deep root and provides the shade of prosperity and relationship for those businesses and individuals that continue or become a part of the Canadian Council on Afrique. One of the great gifts to man is the ability to plant a sapling, though knowing that you may never enjoy the shade, and fostering the growth for future generations to enjoy.

Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.

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