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Enhance efforts to aid poorest Africans

By Akihiko Tanaka / Special to The Yomiuri ShimbunThe seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD7, will be held in Yokohama on Aug. 28-30 with Japanese and African leaders participating to discuss infrastructure promotion and other measures for Africa.

The first TICAD was held in Tokyo in 1993 at the initiative of the Japanese government, and follow-up gatherings, retaining the identical conference name, have been held on a regular basis. Now the conference is co-organized by Japan, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the African Union.

For Japan, the TICAD event in Yokohama will be the biggest diplomatic event this year since the Group of 20 summit meeting that Japan chaired in Osaka in June. Leaders of 54 countries in Africa and representatives of relevant international organizations will gather for the TICAD summit. Business corporations, nongovernmental organizations and other related entities have already held many TICAD-related events in various parts of Japan.

For many Japanese, Africa may still be the most psychologically distant continent in the world. Nevertheless, relations with Africa have become increasingly important for Japan since the start of the 21st century. On the world map, Africa appears very far from Japan, but the Pacific and Indian oceans, which lie between Japan and Africa, are the main arteries for the 21st-century world economy. Connections between Asia and Africa will definitely have a tremendous influence on the world situation from now on.

Therefore, when the previous TICAD session — TICAD6 — was held in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe floated an idea that has since been called the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision. In 2017, U.S. leaders began actively citing the geographical concept of the “Indo-Pacific.” In June this year, the U.S. Department of Defense released the “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report.” The geographical concept of the “Indo-Pacific,” which encompasses two large oceans, no longer strikes most people as strange.

A high-growth area

Today, it is well known that Africa is a high-growth area in the world economy. For example, according to the International Monetary Fund’s “World Economic Outlook” data, in 2018 there were 27 countries in the world registering a year-on-year gross domestic product growth rate of 6 percent or more, of which 11 were African countries. The IMF has forecast that in 2023 there will be 25 countries, including 14 from Africa, posting an annual growth rate of 6 percent or more.

One factor for economic growth in Africa is the upward trend of population growth there. In many parts of the world, the progress of industrialization has led to a slowdown in population growth, but such a phenomenon has not occurred in Africa, where population growth has shown no signs of slowing down yet. In its World Population Prospects, released in June, the United Nations forecast — based on medium-variant projections — that the population in sub-Saharan Africa, currently about 1 billion, will surpass that of China in 2032 and that of India in 2035, surging to about 1.57 billion.

Against the backdrop of these changes, the African Union, which groups African countries, agreed in 2015 on a vision statement titled “Agenda 2063,” aiming to realize various plans by the year 2063, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). One of the most important projects to be pursued under Agenda 2063 was the conclusion of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which was signed in March 2018 and ratified as of April this year by 22 of the AU member countries, thus reaching the minimum threshold for AfCFTA’s implementation. It came into effect at the end of May.

It is natural for the rest of the world to pay attention to the growing African market. China’s engagement in Africa has been particularly conspicuous. Trade statistics for 2018 showed that China was the biggest trading partner for 20 countries in Africa. On top of trade, China has extended to African countries many loans, some of which, though, are questionable in terms of debt sustainability.

Many of Africa’s China-financed projects have ended up being directly undertaken by Chinese workers. Now, more than 1 million Chinese, including those involved in trade business, reportedly reside across Africa. Also, China invited African leaders in 2000 to launch the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and has since held the forum every three years, with the seventh held in Beijing last year.

Basic problems

However, Africa has to overcome a variety of difficulties in order to keep its economy performing strongly and achieve its Agenda 2063 vision.

In particular, we should not forget that there are many countries in Africa that have not yet prepared a viable roadmap for solving a set of fundamental development issues, ranging from extreme poverty and famine to hygiene issues, including infectious diseases and high rates of infant and maternal mortality, and clean drinking water scarcity and the low electrification rate. Africa still has many countries plagued by civil wars and instability while the numbers of both refugees and internally displaced people are still on the increase.

In Japan, the concept of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is now fairly widely accepted. That said, I feel a bit apprehensive about one thing — to what extent Japanese people are really aware of the fact that, from the global perspective, it is terribly difficult to achieve the SDGs.

For example, Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG 1) is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. In 2015, the “extreme poverty” cohort, composed of people living on less than $1.90 per day, fell to 10 percent — or about 736 million — of the world’s population.

But the sub-Saharan African portion of the extreme poverty cohort is on the rise. According to 2015 data, 413 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lived in extreme poverty, and even when the year 2030 comes, it is said at least 10 percent of the sub-Saharan African population will continue to live in extreme poverty.

It has been agreed that the theme of TICAD7 is “Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation.” I think the theme is good in that it brings to the forefront the African people’s hope to create the driving force for African development on their own.

For years, Japan has contributed to setting up vocational training centers in various African countries and extended assistance to African universities in the fields of natural science and engineering. Furthermore, Japan has promoted joint research activities with African researchers. TICAD7 should also serve as an opportunity to promote Japan’s cooperation with Africa in the fields of science and technology and innovation.

In addition to these measures, Japan, which places importance on “human security” by promoting the SDGs, should also emphasize the development of various aspects of socioeconomic infrastructure in Africa in a way to facilitate the reduction of extreme poverty. This is how Japan should exert itself to support Africa in its own unique way.

Tanaka has served as president of the Tokyo-based National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) since April 2017. Previously, he was a University of Tokyo professor specializing in international politics. He was president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency from 2012 to 2015 and vice president of the University of Tokyo from 2009 to 2012.Speech

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