Several developments this week have focused a renewed level of attention on the abductions and disappearance of Ambassadors Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, and their United Nations' driver, Soulmania Mounkaila, near the Capital of Niger, Niamey, on December 14.
The "National Post" reported on Friday that the Secretary-General of the United-Nations, Ban Ki Moon, had spoken recently to Ambassador Fowler's wife, Mary, to update the situation. Between them, Mr. Guay and Mr. Fowler have about a dozen anxious family members, wives and children, back home; all of whom are hoping for the best in these evermore perplexing disappearances.
People who have personal knowledge of Robert Fowler say he's pretty much "his own man": A lone wolf who is known to be secretive and capable of taking control of complex situations. These attributes served him well as Deputy-Minister of National Defence under the stewardship of Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, during the tough years of multiple cutbacks in the military's budgets. Ambassador Fowler was also Canada's representative at the United-Nations when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister; and he served as a Foreign Affairs advisor to Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Louis Guay was a Quebec champion water-skier at the University of Sherbrooke. As a Consul at the Canadian embassy in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo) he would water ski on the crocodile infested Congo River to the dismay of his colleagues. Mr. Guay was subsequently assigned to the mission in Gabon where he served as Canada's Ambassador. Before his most recent trip to Niger, he had been working on the Sudan Desk of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
Since their abductions and disappearance on December 14th, the road to the truth of their mission has been anything but a superhighway. The United Nations for whom Mr. Fowler was working, even at first denied that he was travelling in Niger as an emissary of the Secretary-General. In the intervening seven weeks; Ottawa, the Government of Niger, and the United Nations have all become increasingly secretive about the kidnappings.
In an extensive report published on January 24th in the "Globe and Mail", and now repeated in the January 30th follow-up published by the "National Post", both newspapers allege a connection to the Algerian based terrorists Al Qaida In The Islamic Maghreb. The A.Q.I.M. is known to operate in the area including Mali where it's been blamed for the kidnappings of several European tourists including four who disappeared last week. Incidentally this "Blog" was first to claim a possible connection to the A.Q.I.M. on January 14 (See post: "MONTH #2-SHAME ON US"). Mali officials had a few days earlier confirmed being asked by Canada to assist in the search for Ambassadors Fowler and Guay. During the last seven weeks though, the Government of Niger, including its President, Mandanou Tanya, have continued to insist the abductions are related to the rebels of the Tuareg Region. A charge those rebels themselves have denied.
The mystery has since only deepened. The New York based investigative group "Inner City Press", which has not received any credit for the investigative work shamelessly repeated in both of Canada's national newspapers, says it was told last week by a..."Senior U-N Official to stop asking (about Fowler) - It might make insurance problems". The demand followed the "Inner City Press" publication of a conversation it had with..."the lead Ambassador of a permanent five member of the Security Council about Fowler's status -
Is he alive?
Yes - The Ambassador answered.
How do you know?
You asked and I answered. I cannot say more. But, we do have immediate fear for Mr. Fowler's safety. But no one speaks about it. It's quite extraordinary."
For the record the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council are: The United-States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France.
Those are the facts: But...The longer officials remain mum about Bob Fowler's mission to Niger and whatever details they may have about his mysterious abduction along with Ambassador Guay and Mr. Mounkaila; bloggers, human rights advocates and supporters of various African factions along the Internet have been rife with speculation. Few of the charges can be completely verified. But they do point to two inescapable conclusions:
1) When official sources refuse to speak to the media. Someone, somehow always steps-in to fill the void...
2) There may be many and varied reasons why some groups on the African continent bear a grudge of one form or another against Canada's diplomats. For instance:
In a note about Mr. Fowler's and Mr. Guay's trip to the Canadian owned SEMAFO Gold Mine the day they disappeared, the authors of: "Africa's Blessing, Africa's Curse" say that Canadian diplomatic missions in Africa..."spend much of their time making sure that mining companies and host governments are brought together and the companies are much praised by Canadian officials." The authors claim that Africa is home to about 600 Canadian (mining) concessions worth more than $12-billion.
"Democracy Now" picks-up on that theme, adding that every Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau (Clark, Mulroney, Chretien, Martin) has left office and profited from the natural resources of the Congo..."while the Congolese people suffer." Specifically about Niger, "Democracy Now" claims that an Alberta company it identifies as - T.G. World Energy - hired the former Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, to intervene in a dispute over the exploration rights for oil and gas on 18-million acres of Niger wilderness. Because of his credentials the former Prime Minister snagged a meeting with the President of Niger and lobbied successfully on behalf of the Calgary firm.
Lastly one Internet post I have been unable to confirm hints at a possible backlash resulting from some nebulous connection to the SEMAFO Gold Mine, it's President Benoit Lasalle of St. Laurent, Quebec; Ambassador Louis Guay and a non-governmental organization (NGO) called "Plan Canada" funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
What is abundantly clear is that the "code of silence" from Ottawa, Niger, the United-Nations and from anyone else who may be involved; is growing stranger by the day. As is clearly becoming obvious: That leads to wild speculative stories which at the end of the day are unlikely to serve the cause of Robert Fowler, Louis Guay and Soulmania Mounkaila's safe return to their homes and families.