In mid December, Robert Fowler, a career Canadian diplomat who is currently the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Niger, and his aide Louis Guay, an official at Foreign Affairs, were abducted in Niger. They were kidnapped not long after visiting a mine operated by Montréal-based SEMAFO (Société d’exploitation minière-Afrique de l’Ouest). The president and CEO of SEMAFO, Benoit La Salle, told the National Post: “Louis [Guay] called me and said he was going down there on a UN mission and that he heard the mine was a Canadian success and he wanted to report this back to Canada.”
At this point there are few other confirmed details regarding the kidnapping. Agence France Presse reported that the federal government, Niger and the UN have all become extremely secretive about the kidnapping. The UN initially denied that Fowler was on an official trip, but then a spokesperson contradicted this earlier statement, admitting that in fact he was on official business.
This event raises some questions about relations between Ottawa and Canadian resource corporations operating abroad. Is it common for diplomats to visit Canadian operated mines in foreign countries? Why was a UN envoy, sent to a country to deal with a conflict largely over natural resources, visiting a Canadian operated mine? Was the visit a message to Niger’s government? The rebels? The UN?