While China’s influence in Africa often makes headlines, Japan’s development assistance to the continent has a long history. In fact, Japan’s pan-continental diplomatic event – the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) – predates the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation by seven years.
The eighth iteration of TICAD will kick off in late August in Tunisia, providing an update to Japan’s approach to the African continent.
For The Diplomat, Raphael Obonyo interviewed Kato Ryuichi, vice president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), about TICAD, Tokyo’s main priorities, and Japan’s engagement with the African countries.
What is the importance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency?
JICA is Japan’s governmental institution for bilateral development cooperation. As Japan takes a peaceful approach for its diplomacy, development cooperation is Japan’s most important diplomatic instrument for developing countries, especially for African countries.
Now JICA is one of the largest bilateral development assistance agencies in the world, which delivered $16.7 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the form of ODA loans, grant aid, and technical cooperation to 150 developing countries in fiscal 2020.
Our activities rest on two fundamental philosophies. The first is Human Security, which means that we aim to build societies where all people can protect themselves from threats and live their daily lives in security and with dignity. The second is Quality Growth, meaning that we promote sustainable growth with less disparity and without harming the environment.
What is the role of Tokyo International Conference on African Development?
TICAD is an open, multilateral platform for discussing how to promote Africa’s development, and for agreeing on outcome documents and action plans for TICAD partners for the years to come until the next TICAD. It is co-organized by the Government of Japan, the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank. TICAD invites African governments, international organizations, bilateral donor countries including emerging economies, private sector representatives, civil society organizations, academia, and others.
In the international community, TICAD is taking the lead of broad discussions on Africa’s development. In the 1990s, it formulated “Ownership and Partnership” as its basic principle. This means that Africa should lead its own development, with donor countries and institutions supporting Africa’s own efforts as development partners. In addition, it is required to “empower” African governments and people to take their own initiatives for development. This notion strongly reflects Japan’s long-standing philosophy of supporting self-help efforts for development cooperation and translates it into Africa’s context.
Based on this principle, Japan has committed to contributing to Africa’s development. This includes development cooperation initiatives by the Japanese government and institutions such as JICA, as well as targets and frameworks for trade and investment by the Japanese business sector.
While JICA is not a co-organizer of TICAD, we play an important role by implementing Japan’s ODA through a wide range of activities across Africa, spanning healthcare, education, industrial development, agriculture, infrastructure, environmental conservation, and peace building. We also help build public awareness by organizing side-events and by promoting the public relationship of TICAD to the people in Japan as well as in Africa and other regions.
What is your take on the effectiveness of JICA and TICAD in Africa?
As you may know, Japan organized the first TICAD in 1993, when attention toward Africa was low in the international community following the end of the Cold War. Through the last 30 years of experience, expectations and trust from African countries for TICAD are increasing as witnessed by the number of heads of state who have participated in the event. The first TICAD started with participation of five African heads of state and government, but now, the most recent TICAD7 (2019) welcomed 42 heads of state and government among 53 participating countries from Africa.
Together with TICAD, JICA has been growing its development cooperation programs and initiatives for Africa, reflecting the outcomes of each TICAD summit. For example, the Coalition for Africa’s Rice Development (CARD), launched at TICAD4 in 2008, achieved a doubling of rice production in Sub-Saharan Africa from 14 million tons/year to over 28 million tons/year. In addition, JICA launched the Africa Business Education (ABE) Initiative and Corridor Development Initiative at TICAD5 in 2013, as well as the KAIZEN Initiative and Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA) at TICAD6 in 2016. In the most recent TICAD7 in 2019, JICA launched the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Initiative, which supports young African entrepreneurs and start-ups for business innovation and matches them with Japanese investors.
What changes is Japan making around its development assistance?
Reflecting the discussions and consensus built through the past TICAD summits, Japan, and consequently JICA, has shifted its priority for Africa to respond to Africa’s development needs. In 1990s, when Africa was suffering from stagnating economic growth and marginalization in the international community, Japan worked to highlight the importance of Africa to the international community and made efforts to build an open and broad partnership with the continent. In parallel, JICA focused primarily on responding to social development needs such as primary education, primary health, and safe drinking water.
In the 2000s, when Africa began undergoing rapid economic growth, JICA started economic development programs such as CARD and regional infrastructure development programs. In 2010s, when the private sector became aware of Africa’s business potential, JICA scaled-up economic development programs such as the Corridor Development Initiative. We are also seeking to expand partnerships with business sectors to promote Japanese investment in Africa that could benefit people across the continent as well as in Japan.
In 2022, TICAD will take place in Africa for the second time after Kenya hosted TICAD6 in 2016. What do you hope to achieve?
Because this is the first TICAD after the pandemic, we want to use TICAD8 as an opportunity to reinforce our partnership with African countries and other partners to better overcome the social and economic difficulties caused by the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, and in the long term build resilient societies. By that we mean societies that can withstand external shocks without collapse, whether from issues like climate change, or the effects of crises originating outside the continent.
Now, with Africa facing the challenge of a post-COVID-19 economic recovery, climate change, and food insecurity caused by the Ukrainian crisis, our focus will be on building resilience for Africa’s socioeconomic frameworks. We will do this by strengthening healthcare systems, realizing decent work opportunities, supporting start-ups and business innovation, promoting digitalization, facilitating regional trade and integration, combating climate change, increasing agricultural production to achieve food security, and more.
Faced with the Ukraine crisis, the international community has demonstrated strong solidarity to protect and support those affected by the war. The massive levels of assistance being delivered to Ukraine and its neighboring countries are necessary and right. But, as we support Ukraine, let us not forget about Africa.
I would like to emphasize that now is the time that we, as an international community, must come together to help Africa build back better from COVID-19 as well as the Ukraine crisis, and move toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which in turn will boost its resilience. Now is the time for Africa’s friends and partners to demonstrate solidarity with the continent, reaffirming and fostering development cooperation.
In addition, it would be our hope that the people of Africa consider the value of Japan’s cooperation and deepen our mutual trust. Africa is in the process of rapid growth and change. Now change is happening in the new post-COVID era and there will necessarily be adjustments. There are also drastic changes taking place around the world and global stability is at stake. Amid these changes facing us, I believe that JICA’s unchanging principle of Human Security based on democratic values is more important than ever for Africa.
With such values and JICA’s long history of assets, JICA adds further value to its approach by utilizing digital techniques and innovation, especially through strong partnerships with the private sector to meet the needs of emerging new challenges. TICA8 is an excellent opportunity for JICA to share and discuss both traditional and new values with our African partners so that we may foster a renewed, deeper relationship to build Africa even better in this new era together.
TICAD8 in August provides an important opportunity to do this, and I trust that we shall. JICA is fully committed to working with African countries and the international community in support of efforts to build forward better towards a more resilient, inclusive, and prosperous continent.
What are you doing to communicate and publicize the role of Japan, JICA, and TICAD, which are undervalued or misunderstood?
Toward TICAD8, we have been preparing communications targeting mostly people in Africa and other regions, as I mentioned above. As you point out, Japan/JICA/TICAD’s contributions and achievements are not as well-recognized and understood in Africa and other regions as we expect.
To achieve this, we will organize events prior to TICAD8 in Johannesburg and Paris, respectively this June 21 and July 6, both in hybrid formats, targeting African and global media to raise awareness of TICAD8 and JICA’s strategy and presence in Africa. We will continue to approach African and global media with online media briefings, press conferences before TICAD8, online TICAD8 side-events, and more.
To build public awareness of these issues in Tunisia and Africa at large, as well as Japan and other regions, we will organize 26 online side-events targeting people in Africa, Europe, and Japan.
With the presence of foreign competitors like China and India, who have committed billions of dollars in support of African affairs, what is Japan doing differently?
I believe our role in Africa is not to compare or compete with emerging donors, such as China and India, but to meet the true needs of African people, who want to develop sustainably, inclusively, and peacefully, through their own initiatives and efforts. To achieve this, we have three strong and unique points that are different from the countries you mentioned. First is respecting Africa’s ownership and empowering their capacity; second is focusing on people and ensuring human security; third is utilizing Japan’s experience and know-how.
The first point is as I have explained. I would like to add that this is why we describe our engagement as “cooperation” rather than “aid” or “assistance.”
The second point means that JICA has promoted cooperation so that each individual can live with dignity and have opportunities to realize his/her own potential to live their own lives. We also believe it is critical for people to tightly connect with each other and build mutual trust.
On the third point, I mean that JICA’s cooperation is largely underpinned by Japan’s development experience, as Japan succeeded in building a free, democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nation under the rule of law without losing its own traditions and identity, although Japan was lagging behind in industrialization at the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
We believe the lessons of Japanese modernization can be of help to African countries today, so that they can create their own development policies and strategies while keeping their cultures and traditions.