ADDIS ABABA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wooed Africa on Tuesday, pledging financial packages to boost peace and security on the continent, which has become a key trading partner with China.
“In order to respond to conflicts and disasters in Africa, Japan is now preparing to implement assistance of approximately $320 million,” Abe said in his policy speech for the continent at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.
As part of that deal, Abe pledged $25 million to address the crisis in South Sudan, where fighting between government forces and rebels has taken the world’s youngest nation to the brink of all-out civil war.
On Monday, Abe urged warring South Sudanese parties to sign a cease fire after weeks of violence that has left thousands dead.
“All parties need to reach an early agreement to stop violence. . . . There also needs to be sincere efforts towards national reconciliation among the ethnic groups,” Abe added.
Around 400 Self-Defense Forces personnel are in South Sudan as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force.
“Japan believes mediation from neighboring states such as Ethiopia is vital and should be supported,” Abe said.
Japan has been engaged in Africa for decades, particularly in financing peacekeeping missions.
In addition to the money earmarked for South Sudan, Abe said Japan would donate $3 million to the crisis in the Central African Republic, which has been engulfed in conflict since last year.
The head of the AU’s executive council, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, expressed her gratitude for Japan’s contribution.
“We welcome the support the prime minister has just announced for the African Union in peace and security in Central Africa, South Sudan, humanitarian assistance and capacity building,” she said.
Abe said strengthening business ties with Africa and promoting the private sector is a priority for his government, and pledged to boost Japanese investment on the continent.
“Africa has now become the continent that carries the hopes of the world through the latent potential of its resources and its dynamic economic growth,” he said, adding that Japan would offer a total of $2 billion in loans to the private sector, doubling a 2012 pledge.
Key to this growth was the central role of youth and women on the continent, whose roles he said can’t be ignored.
“We will center the axis of Japan’s diplomacy towards Africa on two groups: young people, who will without a doubt shoulder the responsibility for the future Africa, and women, who will give life to Africa’s future generations,” he said.
Africa is home to several of the world’s fastest growing economies, but it also has large populations of unemployed youth who represent both an opportunity and a potential burden.
Abe’s two-day trip to Ethiopia was his last stop on an Africa tour that took him to Cote d’Ivoire and Mozambique in a bid to bolster Japanese ties and business relations.
The leader pledged to continue his political and economic cooperation with Africa.
“I myself would like to visit Africa multiple times as necessary, in order to support vigorously these efforts to bring about a brilliant future for Africa,” he said.
China became in 2009 Africa’s top trading partner at 13.5 percent, compared with trade at 2.7 percent with Japan, according to the OECD.
Abe was scheduled to fly to Oman later Tuesday before heading back to Tokyo.