PanAfrica: Japan And Africa's Development
The visit to Ethiopia and Ghana by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is an opportunity to refocus international attention on the continent's development needs and cement Japan's position as an aid leader.
This is Koizumi's second visit to the continent, following a visit to South Africa in 2002 for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. He follows in the footsteps of ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the first ever Japanese Prime Minister to visit the region and who initiated a dialogue with the African leaders at the G8 Summit hosted by Japan in 2000.
Koizumi's visit is organized against positive signals coming out of Africa, which helped spark international goodwill to support the continent's development. At the 2005 United Nations World Summit, the African leaders reaffirmed their resolve to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Today, through the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), they are tackling the continent's socio-economic growth and development in innovative and more effective ways.
But this progress notwithstanding, the continent still faces many daunting challenges. Studies indicate that it is the only region where poverty rates have increased and some 47 per cent of the population still lives below the extreme poverty line of US $1 a day.
Today, Africa accounts for only 1.5 per cent of world trade, down from 5 per cent 20 years ago. Democratic governance is taking hold, but questions on the democracy dividend abound. The ever-growing diversity of economic performance in Africa is striking.
While for some African countries, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is within reach, for many others, the prospects still remain dim at present trends. This necessitates scaling up of efforts at accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
The pledges of increased support from the international community - including a doubling of Japan's official development assistance to Africa over the next three years, from the level in 2005 of $529.9 million - are meant to tackle Africa's development needs. But African leaders and their development partners worry that the promises are slow to translate into concrete and significant increases in resources to finance development.
During his visit, it is hoped that Koizumi will stress the Japanese Government's continued commitment to Africa through the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a major global framework launched in 1993 to promote African development based on African ownership and international partnership.
TICAD has for the past thirteen years spurred a wave of initiatives in peace consolidation, human-centered development and poverty reduction through economic growth with special emphasis on cooperation between Africa and Asia.
The Prime Minister's visit will cap off the past few months during which Japan has stepped up its support of Africa, including a new $60 million initiative unveiled in February and disbursed in March to consolidate peace inter alia, in Sudan, the Great Lakes region and West Africa.
With offices in virtually every African country, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) prides itself to be a trusted partner for development in Africa. This is evidenced by the fact that much of the Japanese multilateral assistance to Africa is channeled through UNDP.
In the new areas of cooperation, activities range from skills training for former child soldiers to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, and community development in such countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, the promotion of trade and investment between Asia and Africa through building the capacities of African small and medium sized enterprises and enhanced business opportunities through the Africa-Asia Business Fora, support of agricultural and rural development including dissemination of the New Rice for Africa, emphasis on human security, and implementation of the Millennium African Villages initiative, are among other areas Japan has entered into partnership with UNDP in Africa.
In 2000 and 2001, Japan was the top contributor to UNDP's core resources. But the nation's $82.4 million contribution to UNDP's core resources in 2005 placed it fifth. The trust funds and cost sharing contributions pushed up the total to $219 million. From January 2005 to March 2006, Africa benefited from $50.3 million of the Japanese non-core contribution.
Africa is ready to take giant steps towards sustainable development; Koizumi's visit to the region can trigger these moves. By working more closely, UNDP and the Japanese Government can strengthen the strategic partnership that will put the region squarely on the path to making remarkable progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo is the UN Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme.