Japan aims for quality aid to Africa

Priorities include poverty reduction, private sector growth and human resource development

By Nii K. Bentsi-Enchill

Even while Japan faces "great economic difficulties and severe financial circumstances," it remains committed to playing a leading role in development cooperation with Africa, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi declared at the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development (see article "Tokyo conference urges Africa support despite global crisis"). He said Japan would be giving priority to poverty reduction and integration of Africa into the world economy in collaboration not only with other donor countries and international organizations, but also with "fellow Asian countries with interests in Africa." Other areas to which Japan would also be paying greater attention include human resource development and private sector growth as well as primary education, health and clean water supply.


Telecommunications is one of the areas covered by Japanese technical cooperation.

Photo: Japan International Cooperation Agency

Mr. Obuchi's commitment was not linked to a pledge to increase official development assistance (ODA) to Africa. Indeed, Japan decided last year to shift the emphasis of its ODA from volume to improved quality. In June 1997, the government decided on further reduction of the foreign aid budget over the 1998-2000 period, starting with a cut of at least 10 per cent in 1998. While in recent years Japan has been the world's biggest donor to developing countries and the fourth biggest donor to Africa, its aid to Africa had already fallen by 20 per cent in 1996 to $1.07 bn. This was part of the sharp decline in Japan's total bilateral ODA -- from $10.5 bn in 1995 to $8.4 bn in 1996. The ratio of Japan's total ODA to gross national product (GNP) also fell from 0.28 per cent in 1995 to 0.20 per cent in 1996.

Despite the budgetary pressures, Japan took the opportunity of TICAD-II to state its continuing commitment to African development. Prime Minister Obuchi used Japan's own experience to stress the importance of African countries' taking charge of their own development process. The role he outlined for Japan would be one of helping coordinate bilateral and multilateral assistance to that process.

Creating partnerships

Japanese aid to Africa has been under review since early 1997. Some of the new emphasis is on improving aid effectiveness through better surveys, monitoring, evaluation, and follow-up activities. Another aid framework is the "Shaping the 21st Century" strategy document drawn up by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Japan was a "particularly active contributor," the OECD said earlier this year, noting that Japan is "leading efforts to create partnerships between donors and developing countries to implement the goals and management styles embodied in the strategy document."

At the Tokyo conference, Japanese officials explained the current thrust of their aid to Africa. One priority is human resource development, with Japan planning to sponsor training for 2,000 Africans in Asian and North African countries, in conjunction with Indonesia's Centre for South-South Technical Cooperation. It intends to set up regional training centres in Kenya and Ghana which will also help coordinate international research against parasitic and infectious diseases.

Reflecting Japan's interest in trilateral cooperation, another effort involves providing skills training for Africans at facilities in Malaysia, which receive Japanese aid and inputs from France. One important area of training involves increasing African countries' capacity to manage their external debt. Japan will provide technical assistance for this, working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the African Development Bank.

Another priority is promoting Africa's private sector, particularly through trade with and investment from Asia. To these ends, Japan will work with the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to set up an Asia-Africa Investment Information Centre. Hosted by Sibexlink, a Malaysia-based economic information service, the centre will provide information on investment opportunities through the Internet.

Japan is also working with UNDP towards an Asia-Africa Business Forum scheduled for late 1999 in one of the Asian capitals. The aim is to provide a venue for African and Asian business people to meet and do business. A second forum will be held in Africa in 2000. Noting that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are vital to private sector development, Japan has welcomed the idea of declaring 2000 the year of SMEs in order to focus attention, internationally and in both Asian and African countries.

Noting the longstanding fact that Japan is a country "that has in principle renounced the goal of becoming a military superpower," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs observes that Japan considers ODA to be an especially important foreign policy tool. It also believes that it should "aggressively promote" technical assistance. As the Ministry explains in its 1997 report on ODA, Japan has long experience in "assimilating institutions, policies and legal systems from overseas and achieving development by rearranging them in a Japanese fashion." Japan is, therefore, extremely well placed to help developing countries "seeking to introduce more industrialized countries' institutions and policies."