¥11 billion to stabilize Sahel area in Africa

AFP-JIJI

The government intends to give $120 million (¥10.9 billion) in new aid to help stabilize the Islamist-infested Sahel region as resource-poor Japan looks to shore up North Africa following the slaying of 10 Japanese hostages in the Algerian gas plant siege.

Japan is still in shock following the deadly hostage crisis, which prompted calls for the government to better protect workers in the troubled but energy-rich area, where many Japanese companies operate.

The announcement Tuesday of the new assistance also comes as a multinational force pushes back jihadists who had until recently controlled the northern part of Mali, the vast state on Algeria’s doorstep. Parts of both Mali and Algeria lie within the Sahel belt that runs across North Africa.

“The government plans to give an additional $120 million to help stabilize Mali and the Sahel region,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. “This is to help the region to strengthen governance and security, including aid for peacekeeping operations.”

Militants took hundreds of people hostage when they overran the gas plant in the Sahara Desert in mid-January. Of the at least 37 foreigners known to have died, Japan’s toll of 10 was the highest of any country. All of them were employed by plant engineering firm JGC Corp.

“We expect this aid to help strengthen the AFISMA mission and abate the poverty that can breed terrorism,” Kishida said, referring to the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, which has U.N. Security Council backing.

According to a Foreign Ministry official, Tokyo has already given $63 million (¥5.7 billion) in aid to the region over the past year, in part to counter a severe drought and also because of the worsening security situation in Mali. But analysts say the government has been slow to engage in the region despite the presence of a significant number of Japanese trading firms and developers.

“Although it is a belated move, the aid shows the government is stepping up its crisis-management diplomacy in the region, which of course covers resource diplomacy as well,” said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University.

“The government of (Prime Minister) Shinzo Abe has said it would boost crisis management as part of its basic policies. I think this is more or less an emergency measure to increase Japan’s engagement in the region,” he said.

The government will also take measures to strengthen intelligence-gathering and analysis of Islamists, while the Foreign Ministry will seek to boost antiterrorism measures, support efforts to stabilize the Sahel, North African and Middle East regions and promote communication with Islamic and Arab nations, Kishida said.

He added that the government will earmark ¥3 billion specifically for global antiterrorism measures in the next fiscal year’s budget.

The International Monetary Fund agreed Monday to provide an $18.4 million emergency loan to Mali that observers say is likely to persuade other donors, which cut off aid following the country’s 2012 coup, to release additional funds.