Japan summit promotes ‘vibrant Africa’

More Asian support pledged for anti-poverty Millennium Goals
From Africa Renewal: 
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A mother and child in Ghana with insecticide-treated bed nets to protect against mosquitos carrying malaria A mother and child in Ghana with insecticide-treated bed nets to protect against mosquitos carrying malaria. Japan is financing projects to promote greater use of bed nets across Africa.
Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba

Building on its recent economic and political achievements, Africa is poised for a “century of growth” and may even become “a powerful engine driving the growth of the world,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said at the opening of a three-day summit of African and Asian leaders.

Held in Japan’s port city of Yokohama 28–30 May, the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) drew some 40 African heads of state and government to refine strategies for further advancing the region’s progress. The conference was co-organized by the government of Japan, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and the World Bank.

“Economic ties between Asia and Africa have expanded rapidly in recent years,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro observed. Between 1990 and 2005, she noted, African exports to Asian countries have tripled, and Asia now accounts for more than a quarter of all African exports. Asia’s foreign direct investment in Africa also grew rapidly, although from a small base.

Promoting such enhanced Asian-African cooperation has been a central goal of Japan since the first TICAD conference in 1993. The summit meetings, held at five-year intervals, have served not only to highlight Japan’s own support for Africa, but have also provided a venue for other Asian countries to showcase their increasing engagement with the continent. In November 2006 China hosted a major summit with African leaders (see Africa Renewal, January 2007), and in April 2008 India also gave a major push to its relations with the region (see box).

Tsuneo Kurokawa, head of the Africa section of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, distinguished TICAD’s multilateral approach from China’s recent bilateral initiatives. “The strength of TICAD,” Mr. Kurokawa emphasized, “consists in the fact that it involves other parts of Asia and international organizations.” He noted that the Yokohama conference included representatives from 12 Asian nations, 22 donor countries and 55 international organizations, including the UN, which has been a cosponsor since 1993.

Two other TICAD principles have been African ownership of the continent’s development strategy and the establishment of a genuine partnership between Africa and its international supporters. These concepts are embodied in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), adopted by African leaders in 2001, noted the Yokohama Declaration issued by summit participants. NEPAD also had been endorsed by the previous TICAD conference, in 2003, as the framework for cooperation between Asia and Africa.

Infrastructure and MDGs

In order to boost Africa’s economic growth, Prime Minister Fukuda told the summit, “The most important thing is the development of infrastructure.” Reflecting NEPAD’s own emphasis on this sector, the Yokohama Action Plan approved by the summit observed that building roads, ports, power systems, water facilities and other infrastructure will be vital for expanding industry, agriculture, trade and investment in Africa.

Advancing “human security” in Africa — one of the topics emphasized at the Yokohama summit — will also be essential for the continent’s progress, participants agreed. However, they noted in the Yokohama Declaration that achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by world leaders in 2000 to reduce poverty and promote human well-being, “will be a difficult task.” Ms. Migiro, the UN deputy-secretary-general, expressed concern that now, at the midpoint to the MDGs’ target date of 2015, Africa is lagging. “Based on current trends,” she said, “no African country is likely to achieve all the goals. An effective and immediate response is required.”

One way to speed progress on the MDGs is to use existing resources in a more targeted and efficient way. The Yokohama summit highlighted community-based approaches such as the Millennium Villages Project, which is now in its pilot phase in 10 African countries (see article).

From aid to investment

TICAD participants also emphasized that the MDGs can be advanced if the donor countries fulfill the commitments they already have made to double assistance to Africa. That was one of the central messages that Japan has promised to convey to the next summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations, scheduled for Tokyo in July.

Prime Minister Fukuda announced that Japan will double its own official development assistance (ODA) to Africa over the next five years. According to estimates by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan disbursed $2.7 bn to sub-Saharan Africa in 2006 (the last year for which detailed statistics are available). In 2007, however, overall Japanese foreign aid fell by nearly a third, a slippage that was sharply criticized by Japanese civil society organizations in the lead-up to the TICAD conference.

Mr. Fukuda said that part of the increase in Japan’s aid over the next five years will be in the form of $4 bn in soft loans for infrastructure development projects. Grants and technical assistance will be doubled. That technical assistance will include training 100,000 African health workers over the next five years and sending teams of water specialists to improve Africans’ access to water sources.

In 2009 Japan will begin a contribution of $560 mn to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides about 60 per cent of its assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. This year Japan will also start funding a $10 bn “Cool Earth Partnership” to help African and other poor countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pursue environmentally sustainable development.

President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, speaking to the Yokohama summit as president of the African Union, saluted Japan’s role in seeking to achieve global consensus on practical follow-up measures to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Compared with other world regions, President Kikwete noted, Africa emits few of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but suffers a disproportionate share of the negative consequences of climate change.

Since Africa needs much more than aid inflows, the Tanzanian president expressed the hope that Japan, through the TICAD process, would do more to encourage private sector investment in the continent.

Prime Minister Fukuda announced that a new facility for African investment will soon be established within the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, to directly finance businesses in Africa, as well as to provide financing guarantees. Over the next five years, such financing should reach $2.5 bn. “Through such public-private collaborative activity,” the Japanese prime minister added, “we are aiming to double Japanese private investment in Africa.”

Bridging the Indian Ocean

More than a dozen African presidents and prime ministers joined with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on 8–9 April for the first India-Africa Forum. “The Indian Ocean has never been a barrier,” observed Alpha Oumar Konaré, the outgoing president of the African Union Commission. “It is a route for travel and cooperation.”

The same spirit featured in the participants’ final declaration: “We are neighbours across the Indian Ocean.” They noted that while African countries have made political and economic progress in recent years, India “has evolved into a more mature and fast-growing economic mode.” Greater cooperation, therefore, can help both India and Africa “become more self-reliant [and] economically vibrant.”

Trade between India and Africa is currently around $25 bn a year, nearly three times the level of just four years ago. Africa’s share in India’s total foreign trade rose from 5.8 per cent in 2002–03 to 8 per cent in 2006–07. At the forum, Prime Minister Singh observed that India accords duty-free access to most goods from least developed countries, 34 of which are in Africa. In 2003–04, India provided about $2.2 bn in trade credits to African countries, an amount that will increase to $5.4 bn in 2008–09. India’s Export-Import Bank, which previously had an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, has recently opened another, in Dakar, Senegal.

India, Mr. Singh also pledged, will double the number of scholarships it gives to students from Africa, from about 4,000 to 8,000 annually. It will likewise increase the number of Africans to receive technical training from 1,100 to 1,600 each year.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal especially welcomed the measures to increase African exports to India. “It’s a revolution,” Mr. Wade declared, “since exports are the motor of development.”

The participants from India and Africa also vowed to strengthen their cooperation in a wide range of other areas, from agricultural development to negotiations on multilateral trade and climate change. They agreed to hold the next India-Africa Forum in 2011.