Prime Minister Stephen Harper landed in Senegal Wednesday night. It's the first stop on a four-day African visit that will see him head to the Democratic Republic of Congo later in the week for a francophone summit.

Harper arrived in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where he'll hold talks on a variety of trade, human rights and security issues. He'll leave for the Congolese capital of Kinshasa on Friday. 

A spokesman for Harper said Senegal, after its recent orderly transition of power following last spring's election, is emerging as a key partner in promoting peace, human rights and stability in West Africa.

Harper will meet with Senegalese President Macky Sall to discuss the food crisis in the Sahel region as well as the deteriorating security situation in Mali that poses risks for its neighbours.

Canada is also seeking "more robust commercial ties."

Diram Avediam, president of Lactopur, a Montreal company that sells powdered milk to distributors in Senegal, said there are lots of emerging business opportunities in that part of Africa.

"The nature of our business is to sell milk to countries that have a need, they have a high population growth, they have a high fertility rate," Avediam said. "In Senegal, 50 per cent of the population is less than 30 years [old]."

Harper to meet with new Quebec premier

From Senegal, Harper goes to the summit of La Francophonie on Saturday and Sunday in Congo's capital, Kinshasa.

In addition to discussing regular summit topics, such as democracy and poverty reduction, when Harper is in the eastern part of Congo, he's expected to express Canada's concerns about reports of increasing human rights violations and violence against women.

Sylvia Perras of the Africa-Canada Forum of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation said the Canadian government's renewed interest in Africa comes as a surprise, albeit a welcome one.

"We've been accustomed in the last few years that Africa has been completely out of the map of the Canadian foreign affairs agenda," Perras said.

At the francophone summit, Harper is also expected to meet with Pauline Marois for the first time since she became the new premier of Quebec.

CBC senior political correspondent Terry Milewski said the meeting between Harper and Marois is expected to be low key — so low key that there may not even be a scheduled photo opportunity. 

With files from The Canadian Press