By Felix Osike
As Japan marks the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that left 20,000 dead or missing on March 11, 2011, its support to Africa remains steadfast.
Japan and other development partners will in the forthcoming fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) pledge to support and strengthen the private sector in Africa by encouraging countries to improve the investment climate and legal and regulatory frameworks.
At the conference taking place from June 1 to 3 in Yokohama, Japan will emphasise trade, technology transfer and assistance to the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa.
TICAD V will support regional integration and expand intra-regional trade and create new opportunities for private sector development and employment.
Despite the 2011 disaster, the country has met its commitment made at the last TICAD IV in 2008. Figures show that Japan doubled the Official Development Assistance to Africa to $1.8b, while Foreign Direct Investment from the Japanese Private Sector to Africa reached $3.4b by December 2012.
“Two years ago today, Japan experienced an unprecedented earthquake. We would like to express our sincere appreciation for the warm encouragement from African countries on that occasion. Japan would like to further deepen its relationship with African countries and to continue working closely with them towards a future full of promises. Japan hopes that TICAD V will be a new starting point for that purpose,” says a statement from the government of Japan. TICAD is co-supported by the UN, World Bank, UNDP and the African Union Commission.
This year’s theme: Hand in Hand with more dynamic Africa-Transformation for Growth will have discussions on robust and sustainable economy, inclusive and resilient societies and peace and stability to show the world, actions to be taken for African development.
In addition, TICAD V will support women and youth by focusing on initiatives that will ensure legitimate rights of women and their role and participation in all spheres of life.
Although China and India too have fortified their relations with Africa, Japan cooperation emphasises the twin concept of Africa’s ‘ownership and partnership’ with the international community rather than the previous relationship where African countries were mere recipients of aid.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the TICAD process since it was initiated by Japan in 1993 and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Organisation of African Unity, now renamed African Union.
Since then, the TICAD process has enhanced the level of cooperation between many Asian and African countries and has enabled the Asian development experience to be shared with or replicated in Africa.
Over the last five years, Japan has supported investments in physical infrastructure such as roads, facilitation of cross-border procedures such as one stop border posts, agriculture and rural development, education and strengthening of the health systems.
Japan’s focus has been on building skills, through education. Ugandan farmers have also been assisted to move up the value chain and meet agricultural product and export standards. Japan has also increased rice production in Uganda through wider use of the high yielding New Rice for Africa (NERICA) variety which is already popular in non-traditional rice growing areas.
More specifically, Japan has been instrumental in providing credit to small holders, especially women, to facilitate their uptake of new technologies and accelerate their integration into agri-business value-chain .
One of the landmark projects being undertaken under a $115m (sh307b) Japanese grant is the construction of the new Nile Bridge at Jinja. Other projects are the construction and rehabilitation of school buildings and related infrastructure. It has also provided technical assistance to train and re-train primary and secondary school teachers and promoted vocational education and training.
In the health sector, Japan has promoted training and retention of health workers and has improved provision of health services by expanding health infrastructure.
Japan is also providing humanitarian and reconstructive assistance to northern Uganda, helping in re-integration of internally displaced persons and supporting livelihoods through vocational training and providing start-up assistance to small business and agriculture.
Isao Iijima, a special advisor to prime minister Shinzo Abe recently told President Yoweri Museveni that Japan was willing to support Uganda’s development efforts through construction of big and small dams, technical schools and encouraging Japanese companies to invest in Uganda.
Museveni has called on the Japanese government to consider providing expertise and soft loans to Uganda to promote local production for the regional and international markets.
It can be argued that the 20 years of TICAD process have resulted in a number of achievements and an evolution towards a greater African ownership of its development.