The expansion of Asian-African cooperation will hold the key to further socioeconomic development in Africa, Japanese and African diplomats agreed at a Tokyo seminar last week.
It was also agreed that Japan should champion African development despite waning international interest in aid to the continent, a phenomenon dubbed aid fatigue.
More than a dozen Japanese and African diplomats and Japanese development experts met at the one-day Japan Africa Round Table to address issues related to development.
The seminar, jointly organized by Aoyama Gakuin University and United Nations University, was aimed at assessing the achievements of the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD III, which convened recently in Tokyo under the auspices of the Japanese government.
Masaharu Kono, director general for Sub-Saharan African affairs at the Foreign Ministry, told the gathering that the TICAD III conference was a great success in that it attracted the largest-ever number of participants from African countries, major donors and international organizations.
It drew delegates from 89 countries, including 50 African nations, as well as 23 heads of state or government, and 47 regional and international and nongovernmental organizations.
“More important than the scale of the gathering was that the meeting could be a platform for more attention to Africa when international interest in Africa has been alarmingly waning since the end of the Cold War, and particularly since the outbreak of war in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Kono said.
He particularly cautioned against the prevailing aid fatigue among donor countries and the ensuing “Afro-pessimism,” or a loss of hope for continued development and growth on the continent.
Djibouti Ambassador Rachad Farah, who concurrently heads the African diplomatic corps in Tokyo, told the seminar that he welcomed Japan’s new pledge, made at the Tokyo aid conference, to extend grant aid assistance totaling $1 billion for African development over the next five years.
Aside from the new aid pledge, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi unveiled in his address to TICAD III Japan’s new three-pillar initiative for assistance to Africa, which was described at the seminar by Kenyan Ambassador Mary Odinga as “a welcome and timely” step.
The three pillars are “human-centered development,” “poverty reduction through economic growth” and “consolidation of peace.”
In this context, Ambassador Farah attached importance to a renewed focus at TICAD III on so-called South-South cooperation, in particular, Asia-Africa cooperation, which he said should serve as a framework for dialogue and cooperation.
TICAD III agreed on the need to expand Asia-Africa cooperation so that knowhow and lessons from the experiences that allowed Asian economies to achieve remarkable economic progress will be transferred to African countries.
Asked by a panelist about the prospects for closer Asia-Africa cooperative ties, Farah pointed to the deepening bilateral economic ties between his country and Malaysia.
He also voiced hope that the collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for instance, will pave the way toward greater entry into the Japanese market, which is an otherwise formidable proposition for individual African countries.
While cautioning against the loss of Africa aid interest among developed countries, Kenyan Ambassador Odinga said Africa is not just one entity.
In addressing development issues, donor countries should take into consideration the cultural and ethnic diversities of African countries, not to mention the differing levels of development.
She welcomed the donor nations’ positive pledges made at TICAD III but said what matters most is how these pledges and words are translated into action.
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