When the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development was held in 1993, aid to Africa still meant providing support for social infrastructure, including water, health and education projects, because many of the countries were in civil war and their people needed basic necessities.
But 15 years later, promoting sustainable economic growth is becoming an increasingly important goal when working with African countries, said Tsuneo Kurokawa, head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Africa Department. JICA, a government-affiliated development body, mainly handles foreign aid by providing technical assistance.
“Situations do vary depending on each country, but in countries where peace has been restored, there are signs of growth. Thus, how to balance aid in the area of basic needs and economic growth will increase in importance for Japan and African countries,” Kurokawa said ahead of TICAD IV, which kicks off Wednesday in Yokohama.
Private-sector companies will be the key players in the next five years, and JICA has been working on more projects to help African countries prepare the proper environment and infrastructure for attracting foreign investment and opportunities for growth, he said.
The main reasons why sub-Saharan countries have recently been enjoying economic growth of around 5 percent a year are crude oil and other mineral resources. But Kurokawa noted nations not necessarily blessed with natural resources — including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal — have been posting annual growth rates of 10 percent.
“The fact that peace has taken root is making it possible for local and foreign investors to invest there” to embark on new projects, such as rose exports, he said. “At the same time, there are still uncertainties, and that is why we must push harder to support Africa.”
Japan committed to helping Africa through the TICAD process, but after Sadako Ogata, former head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, took JICA’s helm in 2003, Kurokawa said the agency has strengthened its goal of working with the continent while assuring its aid goes not just to governments, but also to the people.
2003 was when TICAD III took place, and when Japan and African countries discussed not only the importance of continuing to support people’s lives and the restoration of peace, but also the need to continue helping establish the infrastructure needed to encourage private investment, Kurokawa explained.
“This became a very important pillar of the TICAD process, because simply continuing humanitarian aid will not create labor,” Kurokawa said. “If the private sector becomes more active in Africa, that will create more jobs and lead to self-reliance.”
In recent years, Kurokawa said JICA has been working on projects to help African countries prepare the foundation necessary to attract foreign investment, noting some of the projects are being carried out with the cooperation of other parts of Asia.
For example, a project in Zambia to develop laws, a taxation system and improved airports was done with the help of a Malaysian expert familiar with similar projects Japan helped carry out in his own country in the past.
In Madagascar, JICA is teaming up on farm projects in conjunction with Indonesian specialists who once received agricultural technology from Japan.
In contrast with China, which in recent years has become a major donor to Africa, Kurokawa said the strength of TICAD is that it is an open forum that involves other parts of Asia and international organizations, and this could be one of the reasons why the conference is attracting more than 40 top African leaders next week.
While ties between Japan and African countries continue to develop, Kurokawa is aware the Japanese public is still not very familiar with the continent. But he believes African culture, including music, food, textiles and nature, have potential to attract them.
“It would be such a great pity if people only considered the relationship between Japan and African countries simply through ODA or NGO activities,” Kurokawa said. “People should go beyond the recognition that Africa is a place to support, and shift into thinking positively about what they can receive from Africa.”