Monday, March 29, 2010

Man Bites Elephant

Robert Fowler's therapeutic intervention in Canada's folie à deux with the United States.

The above Globe and Mail report is from last weekend's Liberal Conference in Montreal, and includes a full length post of Mr. Fowler's 30 minute speech which "the world needs to hear" (a quote from a person at the Liberal Conference).

From the National Post, December 15, 2008, part of a report at the time of his kidnap:

In nearly four decades as a public servant, Mr. Fowler, 68, was a foreign policy adviser to former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney, served as deputy minister of National Defence, and was Canada's longest-serving ambassador to the United Nations. He was also ambassador to Italy and the United Nations food agency.

He retired in the fall of 2006 and took up lecturing on international affairs at the University of Ottawa. Though he is still a senior fellow at the university, he did not lecture this fall.

Colleagues say Mr. Fowler has been fascinated by Africa since his first posting to Rwanda as a young foreign service officer. He returned to the continent frequently, serving as the prime minister's special ambassador for Africa when he was ambassador to Italy and, in 2005, working on an advisory team reporting to the prime minister on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Mr. Fowler was careful about security while travelling in Africa, said Senator Mobina Jaffer, who travelled with Mr. Fowler and Senator Romeo Dallaire to Darfur.

"When you work in danger areas, you don't do stupid things but you just keep working, that was his attitude," she said. "He was cautious but you know when you go into a conflict zone, it is not 100% safe."

An amateur photographer, Mr. Fowler's affection for Africa and its people was evident in the many photographs he took while on travelling there, Jaffer said. Senator Colin Kenny, a friend of Mr. Fowler's and a former classmate from Bishop's College in Lennoxville, Que., said he connected with Trudeau on Africa.

"He caught the prime minister's imagination with his ability to talk about his experiences," Mr. Kenny said. "He always talked about it as a place with issues and problems but I never heard him talk in the context of personal risks."

In Ottawa, Mr. Fowler is best remembered as a powerful deputy minister of Defence under Brian Mulroney, in a difficult period that saw the department tarnished by the ill-fated mission in Somalia.

On a web page featuring many of the photographs he has taken (, Mr. Fowler writes that his travels have taken him to "some of our time's most appalling circumstances."

"Whether it be the midst of the genocide in Rwanda, the ravages of the Angolan civil war, the never-ending struggle in the Middle East, or the pervasive and grinding poverty which afflicts so much of our world as we in the West enjoy a time of unprecedented plenty, individual dignity is ever-evident and the human spirit so clearly does prevail.

"It is this that I've tried to capture in these images."

A UN official said Mr. Fowler's mission as envoy is to deal with the "general political situation" in Niger. Another official described it as a "good offices mission," which generally means acting as a go-between among opposing groups.

"We have had no indication of who or what is behind this," said a UN official. "At this stage, we don't have any details about what happened to these three people."

Former Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy described Mr. Fowler in a TV interview as a "fearless" and greatly experienced ambassador and UN envoy who is devoted to public service.

"He's been in pretty tough situations in the past," Mr. Axworthy said, citing Mr. Fowler's taking on of the diamond trade in Angola when he was Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Axworthy, who served as a UN envoy himself after retiring from federal politics, noted that envoys often travel with little protection. He called the situation "disturbing."

A UN official said Mr. Fowler's special envoy work has been behind-the-scenes assistance with negotiations to quell "disturbances in the some parts of the country, pitting various groups against one another."

One conflict is between Tuareg tribesmen and government troops over ownership of land and uranium deposits, among the largest in the world. Whether Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay were on a mission involving resource conflict is not clear.

Niger's minister of communication, Mohamed Ben Omar, told Agence France-Presse that Mr. Fowler arrived Thursday in Niamey after he sought an official invitation to celebrations in the western town of Tillaberi, which were being held to mark the 50th anniversary of Niger gaining autonomy from France.

He was not in Niger on official business, the minister told AFP.

Officials were told about Mr. Fowler's disappearance in the pre-dawn hours of Monday after his abandoned vehicle was turned over to authorities.

"Inside were found three telephones, a camera and a jacket," Ben Omar said.

"These disappearances surprise us," the minister said. He added that security forces have been deployed in the area to try to find Mr. Fowler, but noted the diplomat had not informed authorities or the UN office in Niger of his trip.

The landlocked West African country, one of the world's poorest, is coping with a rebellion in its northern region. The frontier region of Tillaberi is, however, well away from the scene of rebel fighting.

With files from Juliet O'Neill and Agence France-Presse

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