Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently visited Ethiopia and Ghana to underscore Japan’s continuing efforts to help Africa fight AIDS and other diseases, eliminate poverty and solve conflicts. His visit to sub-Saharan Africa was the first by a Japanese leader since Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori went there in January 2001.

Unlike Asia, North America and Europe, Africa is remote — both geographically and psychologically — to many Japanese. But Africa’s weight in the international community is increasing. In 1945, there were only four independent African nations. Now there are 53, which account for more than a quarter of the United Nations’ 191 members.

Although economic development and democracy are taking root in Africa, the continent still suffers from serious poverty. Problems are conspicuous in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the United Nations and other organizations, 48 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa subsist on per capita income of less than $1 a day, and 32 percent are suffering from undernourishment. The average life span is 46.3 years, and 40 percent of the children do not finish elementary education.

In his speech at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Mr. Koizumi attached importance to a process set in motion by the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, first convened in 1993. “Since then, Japan has embraced the TICAD process as a long-term challenge, and has expanded the scope of cooperation, which now includes private-sector development,” he said. Japan hosted the third and latest TICAD in October 2003.

Referring to the three pillars of TICAD — “consolidation of peace,” “poverty reduction through economic growth” and “human-centered development” — Mr. Koizumi said Japan will continue to assist the AU in its efforts to address the “serious humanitarian crisis” in Darfur, and will support Africa’s “self-endeavor” in addressing arms issues and advancing counterterrorism measures.

Mr. Koizumi also said Japan will extend efficient cooperation in such areas as trade, investment promotion and infrastructure development, and has drawn up an action plan to strengthen the fight against AIDS, malaria, parasitic diseases and bird flu, which he said are “threats facing the people of Africa.”

What is happening in sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates the need for Japan and other developed countries and international organizations to mobilize their resources to help combat problems in the region. Two-thirds of the 2.2 million deaths caused worldwide each year by AIDS and 90 percent of the 900,000 deaths attributed to malaria are concentrated there. In Sudan, a crisis situation continues in the Darfur region with an estimated 200,000 people having been killed, although a 20-year-long civil war in the country’s south ended in January 2005.

At the Group of Eight conference held in Gleneagles, Britain, in 2005, Africa became the main topic. Leaders from the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and Russia agreed that the international community should double aid to Africa by 2010, with an extra $25 billion added per year. A few months before the Asia Africa Summit convened in Jakarta in April 2005, Mr. Koizumi announced that Japan would double its official development aid to Africa in three years.

To keep its promise, Japan needs to work out effective assistance measures by taking into consideration the real situation of each African region through close cooperation with the organizations concerned. By doing this, Japan could live up to what Mr. Koizumi said in Addis Ababa: “Japan has always followed through on its commitments, based on the principle that we provide what each African country truly needs.”

It is said that Mr. Koizumi’s Africa visit was designed to get cooperation from African countries in its bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and to counter China’s maneuvers in Africa. Shortly before Mr. Koizumi’s Africa visit, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya and signed major business deals apparently aimed at facilitating the fast-growing Chinese economy’s access to African resources and markets.

China’s trade with Africa increased 4.5 times from about $6.5 billion in 1999 to about $29.4 billion in 2004. Its direct investment in the continent has been also on the rise.

Japanese assistance should not be linked to political motives. Japan should extend genuine support to Africa as part of its endeavor to eradicate poverty and conflicts. That is the best way for Japan to win the true trust of other members of the international community.

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