Japan makes new push to Africa

Posted in Japan | 30-May-08 | Author: Ramesh Jaura | Source: Asia Times

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (C) and digintaries attend the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama.

YOKOHAMA, Japan - African leaders are in Japan seeking an increase in official development assistance (ODA) and a boost to trade and investment.

In a keynote address at a three-day conference that kicked off on Tuesday in Japan's port city of Yokohama, Tanzania's President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete welcomed the announcement by Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to double Japan's ODA in the next five years, bringing annual aid from the current US$900 million to $1.8 billion by 2012.

But, he added: "Africa needs more ODA to develop its infrastructure, develop its human capital, and improve the provision of basic social and economic services."

Kikwete was addressing the fourth round of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Speaking on behalf of 52 African governments, the Tanzanian President said: "Besides the increase in ODA, which is highly appreciated, TICAD needs to go further."

He said there was a need for increased trade between Africa and Japan, more Japanese investment, and "more involvement and active presence and participation of the Japanese private sector on the continent."

Kikwete and other African heads of state also welcomed a Japanese package that includes up to US$4 billion of soft loans to Africa over the next five years to help improve infrastructure, and the doubling of grant aid and technical cooperation for the region over the next five years, bringing the five-year average to $1.4 billion from $700 million at present.

But they stressed the need to take into account all countries on the African continent, and not focus the measures on South Africa and Egypt, which absorb 85% of Japanese investment in Africa.

"We must attach importance to the local potentialities of the African countries - particularly in the face of the current food crisis," Akihiro Ohata, a senior leader of the New Komei Party that forms the ruling coalition government in Japan with the Liberal Democratic Party told IPS. Ohata pleaded for exploring needs for technology and aid, keeping in view concerns about the environment and human rights.

Contradicting reports in some newspapers that along with China and India, Japan was joining the run for Africa's rich resources, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said Japan was keeping up a high-level policy dialogue with African leaders and development partners that it had launched at the first round of TICAD in 1993 - when "aid fatigue" had set in after the end of the Cold War.

Kodama told IPS that the process continued with TICAD II in 1998 and TICAD III in 2003, and has evolved into a major global framework to facilitate initiatives for African development.

"The [present] conference comes at a time when Africa's average economic growth rate has reached 6%, peace-building and democratization are taking hold, and countries are tackling climate change and environmental concerns," Kodama said.

This view is supported by a World Bank study released ahead of the conference. According to the study, sub-Saharan Africa is reversing its two-decade decline in economic and social development. That is reason enough for the organizers to give a forward-looking title to the conference, "Towards a vibrant Africa: A continent of hope and opportunity".

Fukuda said Tuesday: "If we were to liken the history of African development to a volume of literature, then what we are about to do now is open to a new page, titled the 'century of African growth'. In the future, Africa will become a powerful engine driving the growth of the world."

The conference, TICAD IV, is being attended by leaders from 52 African countries including some 40 heads of state and government, 22 donor nations along with the European Union (EU), 12 Asian countries, and officials from 16 African regional organizations and 55 international organizations.

The conference has three priorities: boosting economic growth; ensuring human security, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and consolidation of peace and democratization; and addressing environmental issues and climate change.

The conference is co-organized by the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank.

The results of TICAD IV will be fed into the G8 summit in Hokkaido in Japan, scheduled to begin July 7. "We want to bring African priorities to the summit of the world's major industrial nations," Kodama said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kodama said TICAD IV will conclude with the adoption of the "Yokohama Declaration" outlining guiding principles and approaches to African development among TICAD stakeholders, as well as a "Yokohama Action Plan" and a "Yokohama Follow-up Mechanism" laying out a road map for action-oriented initiatives with measurable targets.

(Inter Press Service)