Yokohama, Japan – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined other African Heads of State and Government attending the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), which opened in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday, June 1st. The conference also celebrated the 20th anniversary of TICAD, first held in 1993, and the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity/African Union, established in 1963.
According to a dispatch from Yokohama, the conference is organized by the Government of Japan, together with the African Union Commission, the United Nations, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.
Opening the conference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan recalled Japan’s partnership with Africa, through the TICAD process, and its faith in the future of Africa, even through the continent’s darkest days. He said the TICAD concept has consistently promoted the importance of self-help and self-reliance, and places unwavering emphasis on growth in overcoming poverty.
What Africa needs now, said Prime Minister Abe, is private sector investment, to revolutionize the way of providing assistance to Africa. Thus, over the next five years, Japan will support African growth through public and private means totaling US$32 billion, including ODA and other private resources of around US$16 billion. Japan will also underwrite US$2 billion of trade insurance.
African countries, he said, have indicated that they want the greatest emphasis placed on the further development of infrastructure, business-savvy human capacities, health, and agriculture –the key to which is capacity development.
More specifically, the Prime Minister said, Japan will provide US$6.5 billion for infrastructure, developing “international corridors” that link inland areas with the coasts and also power grids. Japan will cultivate human resources that match the demands of the labor market, he said, and announced “The ABE Initiative – Africa Business Initiative for the Youth,” under which Japan will offer undergraduate and graduate education to African students to study there and work as interns at Japanese companies. Japan will also construct “hubs for human resource development” at 10 field locations in Africa, including Ethiopia and Senegal, and will send experts in vocational training to these hubs.
Prime Minister Abe also advanced the notion of universal health coverage as part of Japan’s diplomatic strategy, through a partnership between private sector entities and the government, as well as his intention to make universal health coverage part of the “Japan Brand.”
The Japanese Prime Minister called for Africa to transition away from agriculture “that enables the farmer to eat to agriculture that enables the farmer to earn money,” under a program to be rebranded as “Aikawa,” after a former Japanese Volunteer, Mr. Jiro Aikawa, who taught farmers in Tanzania and Kenya how to determine what is saleable, thereby producing products with high added-value. The method is currently known as the Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment Project (SHEP).
Prime Minister Abe also announced that, in the future, Japan will focus even more intently on peacebuilding in Africa, through the Japan Self-Defence Forces, and cited assistance being rendered to countries in the Horn of Africa. Japan, he stressed, will also not let up in its efforts to foster “human security” – an approach to identify and address widespread and cross-cutting challenges.
The Prime Minister appealed for Africa’s support towards the holding, in 2020, of another Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. He had heard calls for holding the next TICAD, five years from now, in Africa, but said he could not wait that long and planned to set foot on African soil at the earliest possible time.
Also speaking at the opening was the Co-Chair of TICAD V, the Chairman of the African Union, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, who spoke of TICAD’s involvement with Africa, and expressed the continent’s indebtedness to Japan; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said that TICAD and Japan’s goals are also UN goals, and that TICAD is a call to action, a focus on solutions; the head of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who listed the priority areas in which Japan can play a critical role in Africa; the President of the World Bank Group, Dr.Jim Yong Kim, who said that education is the key to ending absolute poverty by 2030, and for shared prosperity, and promised that the Bank will work with all countries in Africa, particularly through the International Development Association(IDA), and called for support in its replenishment, towards a brilliant future for Africa; and UNDP administrator Helen Clark, who said that TICAD has evolved to meet Africa’s needs, and agree that investment in people will lead to Africa’s success.
Following the opening, there was a Plenary Session on Robust and Sustainable Economy, and another on Dialogue with the Public Sector.
Besides attending the opening and listening in on some of the Plenary sessions, President Sirleaf met with parliamentarians who wanted to know how they can help Liberia. Responding, she said that the level of participation of African leaders and international and regional institutions at TICAD V attests to the strength of relations with Japan. She said that Liberia needs support in power and roads infrastructure, and that Japan is providing support in these two areas.
Most African countries have natural resources, she said, pointing out that Africa’s challenge is to put those resources to work to add value and purchasing power. “We want to see Japan’s private sector join us in setting up companies to process our raw materials,” and she believed that Japanese commitment, integrity and technology can make it a key player in Africa.
Liberia, continued President Sirleaf, needs Japanese expertise in fish processing for export, and agri-processing of its fruits and vegetables. A third area is in rubber processing, she said, mentioning that the Firestone Company, in Liberia since 1926, was now owned by a Japanese group, Bridgestone. Rather than shipping the latex abroad to be processed, it would be good if some of that took place in Liberia. The parliamentarians promised to take the lead regarding rubber processing.