As Trudeau campaigns in Africa for UN Security Council seat, Norwegian PM is steps behind

The prime ministers of Canada and Norway are both in Africa to win support from world leaders for a UN Security Council seat. Norway's prime minister is suggesting her country has built more goodwill with African countries, while Canada touts its "deep connections."

Both countries are seeking support for a UN Security Council seat

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as he gives him a tour of Unity Park in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday, Feb. 8. Trudeau is attending the African Union Summit to solicit support for Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Nearly everywhere Justin Trudeau goes in Addis Ababa, it seems Norway's prime minister isn't far behind. 

On Saturday, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg arrived to an African Union meeting on gender equality just minutes after Trudeau did. Then, she followed in Trudeau's footsteps, strolling through Unity Park with the Ethiopian prime minister. And as Trudeau was leaving Jubilee Palace from his meeting with the Ethiopian president, Solberg's staffers were in the building preparing for her imminent arrival.

It's no coincidence. The two leaders are both in Africa to win support from world leaders for a UN Security Council seat they both want to win. And Norway's prime minister is suggesting that when it comes to that campaign, it may be Canada who is trailing behind.

"I think one of the differences, of course, is we have been on the steady same path for a very long time, so [African leaders] know us," Solberg told Canadian reporters.

African Union summit

Take, for example, the African Union meeting. Trudeau made history on this trip by being the first Canadian prime minister to attend an African Union session. But Solberg was also here last year.

The African Union is a rich source of potential votes for any country looking to win a Security Council seat. It has 54 voting members at the United Nations, roughly a quarter of the total votes.

Speaking to Canadian reporters, the Norwegian leader said she didn't want to emphasize competition between the two countries, noting they take the same approach to many issues. But she suggested Norway was perhaps more deeply engaged.

"Canada is a bigger economy, a larger country, of course, but on the other hand we are using more in development aid. We have used more support for the international policies as part of our GDP."

In 2018, Norway spent nearly one per cent of its gross national income on international assistance. For Canada, the figure was 0.28 per cent, according to OECD figures

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg says her government is spending more on development aid than Canada despite its smaller economy. (Terje Bendiksby/The Associated Press)

Norway, Ireland and Canada are all gunning for one of the two limited-term UN Security Council seats that open up next year. 

Ireland too, has been plotting a course of engagement with Africa for years. It launched its "Africa Strategy" in 2011.

While all countries see the seat as something of a prize that would allow their countries to play an influential role in world affairs, Solberg said the seat is also something of a burden.

"It's an obligation that you have as supporters of multi-lateralism, as a supporter of rule of law. "

"You have to take the burden of sitting on the Security Council, because it's also a burden. You have to take a stand on some policy decisions that as a non-member you don't have to do."

'Positive interactions'

Canadian officials point to the warm reception Trudeau is receiving in Ethiopia. His speech on gender equality received plenty of applause at the African Union and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spent two hours personally touring Trudeau around Unity Park.

Canada's International Trade Minister Mary Ng, who has been on a week-long trade mission to South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia, said there are "deep connections" between Africa and Canada.

"There's really great discussions that are taking place between African businesses and Canadian businesses and they're looking to explore further opportunities."

Asked if she was confident Canada would win the seat, Ng would only say Canada would work hard.

"We are pursuing this with energy and because we believe Canada has a very positive role to play on the world stage."

Canadian officials have previously pointed to investments the government has made over the past few years in Africa.

It committed $2.65 billion over five years to helping developing countries, including many on the continent, fight climate change. Canada has also helped raise billions of dollars for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which does 65 per cent of its work in Sub-Saharan Africa. It recently pledged $930 million over two years to the fund.

The vote for the 2021-22 United Nations Security Council seats is scheduled for mid-June.