Africa awaits real action in TICAD wake

Time to follow through with donor pledges

by and

YOKOHAMA — The three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development closed Friday with participants issuing a declaration committing Japan and multinational organizations to promote sustainable growth on the continent and fight poverty and climate change.

A five-year action plan detailing the agenda and measures planned came out of the Yokohama gathering to ensure the TICAD process advances.

The participants also agreed to establish a followup mechanism to ensure the steps are taken.

“I believe we have established a strong sense of partnership with each other during the three days,” Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in his closing speech.

The Yokohama Declaration, subtitled “Towards a Vibrant Africa,” acknowledged the positive trends that have emerged on the continent since the last TICAD meeting in 2003, due to political stability and improved governance in many countries that had endured conflicts.

At the same time, Africa continues to face serious challenges — from widespread poverty, unemployment and rapid population growth, low agricultural productivity and poor infrastructure, to infectious diseases, the declaration said.

Amid soaring global food prices, the declaration emphasized that “special attention” is necessary to combat the crisis and its negative impact on development.

To deal with the problem, Japan plans both short- and midterm support measures, including providing emergency food aid to doubling rice production in African countries within 10 years, according to the action plan.

Addressing a joint news conference after wrapping up the meeting, Fukuda said, “As the chair of the TICAD meeting, I would like to introduce the voice of African nations” during next week’s international conference in Rome on the worldwide food crisis.

Fukuda described TICAD as a “conference on an unprecedented scale,” telling reporters that Japan’s efforts to assist African development was greeted with appreciation from the continent’s leaders.

The prime minister also said he was able to gain support from African leaders regarding Japan’s push to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Security Council reform “will effectively play a role in sustaining peace and safety in the international community, including Africa,” he told the news conference.

Asked if TICAD was in any way linked to Japan’s geopolitical rivalry with China, which is aggressively offering support in Africa, Fukuda responded that TICAD had a more dignified intention.

Africa’s rich natural resources were not a factor when TICAD was inaugurated 15 years ago, Fukuda said, and the meeting’s aim was purely to assist the continent and its advancement.

“As a country that was able to revive after the war because of assistance” from other countries, Japan will in return provide its experience and knowledge in development assistance to Africa, he said.

The prime minister said he feels responsible for the strong expectations expressed by the participants toward the TICAD process and hopes to convey these goals to the Group of Eight summit he hosts in Hokkaido in July.

“As the chair of the summit, I’m going to live up to your expectations,” he vowed.

President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, chairman of the African Union, told reporters that African leaders generally agreed that the meeting “went well,” and Africa’s concerns “were addressed properly” during the talks.

Kikwete said that the biggest challenge now is the implementation of what was discussed between the delegates, but that he felt assured because of the newly established TICAD mechanism to monitor the implementation of assistance pledges.

To support economic growth, Japan and other development partners pledged to provide infrastructure and promote trade and other measures that encourage direct investments from the private sector to African countries, according to the action plan.

To help Africa achieve a U.N.-initiated Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of those living on less than $1 a day by 2015, Japan and international organizations will support various projects, including promoting community development, community health care, educating women, fighting infectious diseases, and transferring technology and researchers.

Japan on its own also pledged to construct 1,000 elementary and secondary schools for about 400,000 children as well as expand teacher training in math and science. It also vowed to train 100,000 health and medical workers.

Regarding climate change issues, the Yokohama Declaration states that the partners will support the development and use of clean energy, investment in sustainable land and forest management, disaster prevention and management capacity.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan political activist, called for “carbon justice” during a session Thursday, and urged those who “destroyed” the climate and emitted greenhouse gases to take the moral responsibility to aggressively curb global warming.

Fukuda stressed during the news conference that Africa “must be saved from the effects of climate change” and Japan will continue to search for an effective framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol with the developed countries.

To characterize TICAD and differentiate it from other conferences, including those by African countries with China, Brazil and India, the declaration noted the TICAD process was an open forum cohosted by multinational bodies, including the U.N. and the World Bank, and it served as a bridge between Africa and Japan and Asia as a whole.