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NGOs worried Africa will get short shrift

Promises of assistance and targets for progress from previous summits have so far failed to meet expectations

by Akemi Nakamura

When the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama drew to a close May 30, Sayaka Funada-Classen, leader of a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, felt the years of engagement with the government had partly paid off.

That was because Japan promised a significant increase in aid to the poverty-stricken continent — and because citizens’ groups were deeply involved in TICAD’s preparation and were able to hold various events on its sidelines, Funada said.

But for that very same reason, the vice president of TICAD Civil Society Forum is now growing concerned that Africa might not receive enough attention at the Group of Eight summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, next week.

“I’m worried that the agenda on further development in Africa may get shoved to the the back burner” because host nation Japan may be satisfied with what was achieved at TICAD, Funada said.

“Japan should take the leadership” in promoting substantial discussions on reducing poverty in Africa, said Funada, an associate professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies who has spent a great deal of time studying the peace-building process in Mozambique.

African development is one of the key topics to be discussed by the leaders of the G8 industrialized nations during their three-day summit starting Monday. Several African leaders are expected to join working sessions slated for the opening day.

The main theme at the sessions will be how to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals — a set of eight objectives ranging from halving extreme poverty and improving maternal health to providing universal elementary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The MDGs were agreed on in 2000 by U.N. member countries, with numerical targets for each of the objectives to be achieved by 2015.

This year marks the half-way point toward meeting the goals, but there is growing pessimism that many of the targets won’t be reached. For example, the number of people living on $1 or less a day in sub-Saharan Africa only fell to 41.1 percent in 2004, from 45.9 percent in 1999, according to a U.N. report.

According to the Foreign Ministry, discussions at the G8 will place a greater emphasis on measures to improve health care, water security and education systems in line with the Millennium goals.

Health care for mothers and children in developing countries has shown slower improvement than expected, and the G8 members reportedly aim to beef up their support to train health-care professionals in Africa and other needy regions.

The summit participants are also expected to deliver a “strong message” on dealing with the rise in food prices worldwide and its severe impact on poor nations in Africa, the ministry says.

Japan hopes to reflect the outcome of the TICAD conference in the summit’s discussions.

TICAD started in 1993, when the rest of the world was paying little attention to Africa, and is held every five years in Japan. This year’s meeting drew delegates from 51 African countries, the highest attendance yet.

Pushed by the rivalry with China to secure access to the continent’s rich natural resources, Japan pledged to double its net official development assistance to Africa to $1.8 billion by 2012, extend up to $4 billion in new yen loans over the next five years and set up a $2.5 billion fund to help Japanese firms invest in Africa.

Short and midterm support measures pledged by Japan include building infrastructure, doubling rice production within the next 10 years and providing emergency food aid. An action plan was drawn up as a road map to carry out the measures, and a followup mechanism was proposed to monitor implementation of the pledges.

These steps are welcome, but TICAD failed to produce substantial measures to address the Millennium goals, said Toko Tomita, advocacy manager at Hunger Free World, a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo that supports needy people in three African countries and Bangladesh.

“The focus at TICAD was on economic development (in Africa), especially private-sector investments,” she said, noting that investments do not necessarily benefit needy people in some African nations where democracy has not been established.

Tomita, who has visited Benin two or three times a year over the past three years, said that the huge economic gap among people in the western African nation is obvious.

In Cotonou, a major commercial city in Benin, steady economic development is evidenced by the construction of new buildings, while at the same time mothers and children in a village only 30 km away suffer malnutrition. She said her group conducted nutrition research on 900 mothers and children there last year.

“Building infrastructure is necessary. The bottom line is whether (Japan) builds major roads linking big cities or roads that can help people go to schools and health-care centers,” Tomita said. “The government should seriously consider who the aid recipients should be.”

Echoing Tomita’s view, Hideyuki Tsujimura, an associate professor at Kyoto University who for more than a decade has studied agriculture in the village of Lukani, Tanzania, said Japan’s aid to boost agricultural productivity on the continent should be careful not to affect its traditional farming system, which guarantees a minimum living standard for local people.

In Lukani, on the western slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, people grow various crops, from coffee and corn to bananas, potatoes, beans and fruit, while keeping cows and goats for milk.

Coffee and corn are the cash crops, with the money going toward medical treatment, education, home construction and farm management. They consume the other products themselves or sell them for cash to purchase commodities, Tsujimura said.

“Diversifying farm products is a safety net to keep a minimum living standard at a certain level” even when coffee prices drop or the harvest of some farm produce falls short, he said, adding that Japan should be careful not to spoil this system.

Tsujimura added that industrialized nations should push fair trade of African cash crops like coffee beans to improve small farmers’ living conditions in areas like health and education.

If Japan wants the G8 summit to make a significant contribution toward reducing poverty in Africa, it should take the initiative in drawing up a plan to meet the Millennium goals, said Tomita of Hunger Free World.

She also called on the G8 nations to fulfill the pledges they made at the 2005 Gleneagles summit in Scotland.

At that gathering, the G8 leaders promised to double their African aid to $25 billion by 2010, but some donors are not on track to meet that target, according to DATA, a Washington- and London-based advocacy organization founded by U2 lead singer Bono in 2002 to eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.

Katsuya Mochizuki, senior research fellow in charge of the Africa region at the semigovernmental Institute of Developing Economies, said as the economy there grows steadily, emerging powers like China and India have been increasing their investment in the expanding market and are also providing aid, for example, to build infrastructure.

However, industrialized nations still account for a major portion of aid to Africa. According to OECD data, combined aid disbursed by the G8 nations except Russia to sub-Saharan Africa reached $22.45 billion in 2006, accounting for 57.6 percent of the total.

“Aid to Africa has consistently been a key agenda item of G8 summits since the late 1990s,” Mochizuki said, noting this momentum should be maintained at the Toyako summit. “It should give a rightful place to Africa” as a major issue for attaining global prosperity.

Tomita and Funada, who are steering committee members of the TICAD IV NGO Network, a coalition of 43 Japanese NGOs, will go to Toyako together with members of African NGOs to urge the G8 delegates and the media to address the urgent needs facing impoverished African people.

“We are helping African people deliver their messages (to the G8) about how they want to change their situation,” Funada said, adding Japanese NGOs are working to get the government to deliver support directly to the neediest people in Africa.