YOKOHAMA — Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda kicked off a major Africa development conference Wednesday by pledging to double Japan’s annual net official development assistance to the continent to $1.8 billion by 2012 and extend up to $4 billion in new yen loans over the next five years, in particular for road projects.
Tokyo will also set up a $2.5 billion investment fund to help Japanese firms do more business in Africa in accordance with a new target to help double Japanese private-sector direct investment to the continent to $3.4 billion by 2012, he said.
Fukuda revealed the new commitments in his keynote speech before delegates from 52 African countries at the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
Japan is boosting aid to Africa in a bid to regain diplomatic clout as a major aid donor.
Fukuda’s initiatives also come at a time when African nations are starting to see strong growth, supported by recent price hikes for the continent’s rich natural resources.
“This new African history that we will create together will be one of growth,” Fukuda said. “In order to boost the momentum for African growth, the most important thing is the development of infrastructure.”
“Over the next 15 years or so . . . I believe Africa can become a new pole of global growth,” just as China and India have become, World Bank President Robert Zoerllick said in his keynote speech. African delegates, including Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, generally welcomed Japan’s aid pledges.
But Kikwete at the same time pointed out that direct investment by Japanese firms in sub-Saharan Africa only accounted for 0.4 percent of Japan’s total foreign direct investment of $108.5 billion between 2002 and 2004. Also, the destinations of Japanese companies’ investments are not sufficiently diverse, he said.
“Of the money that Japanese firms have invested in Africa . . . 85 percent went to just two countries — South Africa and Egypt,” Kikwete said in his keynote speech to the Yokohama conference.
“For (Japanese firms), Africa is a far-off land too risky to invest in,” he said, urging the government to prepare measures to reduce risks for companies and help promote investment there.
Another point of emphasis for Japan, which is trying to differentiate its aid from the massive infrastructure assistance granted by China to African countries, is in helping to meet the basic human needs of the continent’s people to alleviate poverty.
Fukuda said Japan will train 100,000 local medical workers over the next five years in Africa, which he said is suffering from a shortage of 1.5 million medical practitioners at present.
Tokyo will also aim to double the production of rice in Africa to 28 million tons over the next 10 years to help stabilize food supplies. Measures will include building irrigation facilities, improving rice varieties and training agricultural instructors, Fukuda said.