When Ethiopian security forces killed dozens of peaceful protesters in a hail of gunfire last month, the Canadian government responded with a brief tweet to say it was “disturbed” by the deaths.
But Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan did not cancel his scheduled visit to Ethiopia.
Three days after the killings, he arrived in its capital and held a friendly meeting with Ethiopia’s defence minister and prime minister, making no public comment about the government’s actions.
Canada’s muted response to the lethal crackdown on the biggest protests in Ethiopia’s recent history is a sign of its continuing close relationship with the East African country.
Ethiopia is often among the first stops for Canadian cabinet ministers when they visit Africa, and it remains one of the biggest beneficiaries of Canadian foreign aid, receiving $108-million from Ottawa last year.
The Liberal government, which has promised a “re-engagement” with Africa, must decide how to engage with Africa’s human-rights abusers, of which Ethiopia is among the worst.
The government in Addis Ababa has a long record of jailing and killing its critics, manipulating elections and using Western food aid to reward its supporters and punish its opponents.
The question many are asking now is whether the Liberals will turn a blind eye to these abuses as it tries to revive Canada’s often-neglected relations with Africa.
The growing wave of protests against the Ethiopian government over the past 10 months, especially in the Oromiya and Amhara regions, has been the most significant in this authoritarian nation for more than a decade.
And they have spread to the Ethiopian diaspora around the world, symbolized by Ethiopian marathon runners who made protest gestures as they crossed the finish line at the Rio Olympics and elsewhere.
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