YOKOHAMA - The fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development opened Saturday with a look back over the forum’s past 20 years, discussions about the future and a pledge by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of ¥3.2 trillion in aid to the continent.
“Over the next five years, Japan will support African growth through public and private funds totaling ¥3.2 trillion, including official development assistance of around ¥1.4 trillion and other public and private resources of around ¥1.6 trillion,” Abe vowed at TICAD V. “We will also underwrite a maximum of ¥200 billion in trade insurance.”
The money will be used, the prime minister added, in areas that African nations judge the most urgent. These include further developing infrastructure, business-savvy human resources, health, agriculture and education.
“First, with regard to infrastructure development, Japan will provide ¥650 billion over the next five years. This will be allocated to constructing the infrastructure that Africa itself deems necessary and plans,” Abe said. “We will rocket forward in further developing first of all ‘international corridors’ that link inland areas with the coasts, as well as power grids.”
Human resource training is another area in which the funds will be used. In response to long-standing concerns by Japanese firms about doing business in Africa, Abe said the aid will focus on training workers whose abilities meet Japan’s corporate standards.
“It is necessary to cultivate human resources that truly match labor market demand. I would like to advocate for ‘education with an exit.’ We will aim to foster the human resources needed by companies in local areas, particularly Japanese firms,” Abe said.
He also announced the “Abe Initiative: the Africa Business Education Initiative.” Under the scheme, 1,000 African nationals over five years will be offered undergraduate and graduate education in Japan as well as opportunities to work as interns at Japanese companies.
Some of the funds will be used to develop a Japanese-style public health care system, Abe said, while other money will go toward peace and stability measures.
“Japan will in the future focus even more intently on peace building in Africa,” he said. “The Self-Defense Forces are already making strenuous efforts at this very moment in Djibouti to assist with anti-piracy efforts, and in South Sudan to aid nation building.”
Abe also pledged to devise and implement a strategic master plan for 10 African countries and locations combined, to further contribute to the continent’s long-term growth.
The plan consists of executing as yet undecided large-scale projects utilizing the latest private sector technologies, a Foreign Ministry official said.
Abe’s administration will pick the 10 recipients together with Keidanren, Japan’s premier business lobby.
Although no final decisions on the candidates has been made, one of the sites is Kenya’s port of Mombasa, which has been drawing significant attention from Japanese companies in recent years and received government loans from Tokyo for civil engineering infrastructure development, the official said.
Japan has offered such strategic plans many times in the past to other Asian countries, but this will be the first such support for Africa, according to the official.Abe also asked that the continent support Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics bid.
Investment and trade with Africa are central tenets of TICAD. Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister and co-chair of this year’s conference, said that while Japanese money is quite visible around the continent these days, Japan’s overall presence is not as prominent as that of other nations, notably China, which has drastically increased its role in Africa.
“It is ironic that Japanese investment in the African continent is a far cry from the kind of huge presence it should by now have achieved compared to relative newcomers,” Desalegn said.
In response to criticism that TICAD is nothing more than a talking shop or thank-you party for the funding Japan provides on the eve of each summit, the Ethiopian prime minister spoke of the need for improvements but noted that the forum already has become more inclusive.
“Efforts are needed to make TICAD more results-oriented, in accordance with Africa’s own priorities. The inclusion of the African Union Commission in the TICAD process is a significant step in the right direction,” he said, referring to the executive branch of the AU.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told members that TICAD’s goals were also those of the United Nations. He noted that, economically, there is good news: Africa as a whole is growing at around 6 percent a year, and by 2015, will have seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies.
Ban also raised an issue that is getting comparatively little attention at TICAD but will have a huge impact on all the plans it produces, saying: “Climate change affects millions of Africans. African countries did not do much to cause the problem, but they will need more help coping with its effects.
“That’s why I’m working for a globally, legally binding, universal climate change agreement by 2015.”
In sessions following the opening ceremony, TICAD leaders said Africa needs to find ways to sustain its current high economic growth. They urged African nations, and the global community, to support infrastructure development to better connect the continent and boost intra-Africa trade. Delegates also called for more international private sector investment.
“There are still challenges a number of African countries are confronting. We’re struggling from an infrastructure deficit, especially in power and transportation, and this continues to retard socioeconomic growth efforts,” said Nigerian Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
The heads of state also sought international support for the advancement of Africa’s agricultural sector.
“Agriculture on the continent is the backbone, employing almost 70 percent of the workforce and accounting for about a third of Africa’s GDP,” said William Kipchirchir Samoei arap Ruto, deputy president of Kenya.
The importance of political stability for development was also stressed, with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki saying: “We need democracy and good government because without (them) there won’t be sustainable development. This is a precondition for development.”
At an earlier pre-TICAD meeting Friday afternoon, Abe declared Japan’s interest in one particular natural resource Africa has in abundance.
“Africa’s natural gas offers an important business chance,” he told the gathering of African leaders. “However, we will not simply take such resources and bring them back to Japan. Africa’s natural gas bounty will lead to the development of its economic growth and will help the continent.”
But the prime minister echoed the concerns of many companies, Japanese and foreign alike, operating in Africa.
“What Japanese firms seek on the continent . . . is a safe and free business environment. Along with promoting a necessary legal system and abolishing excessive regulations, please also realize the smooth entrance and exit of goods and people,” Abe told Africa’s leaders.
Key pledges by Tokyo at TICAD
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday that Japan:
● Will pledge up to ¥3.2 trillion in government and private aid for Africa over the next five years. Of the total, Japan’s official development assistance for the continent will come to ¥1.4 trillion.
● Will spend ¥650 billion on developing African infrastructure over the next five years.
● Will invite 1,000 African youths to study and work as interns in Japan over the next five years, and will train 30,000 Africans over the next five years on the continent to help them get jobs.
● Will set up personnel development bases in 10 locations, including Ethiopia and Senegal, and dispatch job training experts to the Africa.
● Will promote “universal” basic health services in Africa.
● Will make greater efforts to build peace on the continent.
● Will seek to transition Africa’s agriculture system from one that “enables the farmer to eat” to one that “enables the farmer to earn money.”