Ministers from Japan and African countries agreed Sunday that they urgently need to take policy actions to address the continent’s “vulnerabilities” and achieve its sustainable economic growth.
Representatives from 52 countries who gathered in Tokyo for a two-day ministerial meeting identified challenges, ranging from building infrastructure and better utilizing human resources, particularly young people, to beefing up maritime security and boosting resilience against climate change.
As demand for infrastructure building has been on the rise in Africa, proper debt management for such projects has been increasingly seen as necessary.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who co-chaired the meeting, said he and the other participants shared the importance of making sure that borrowing countries can pay back debts and sustain fiscal health.
Tokyo has been promoting “quality infrastructure” under projects that create jobs and also train people to maintain the infrastructure after construction, Kono said, underscoring that the focus is on human resources development.
“The basic principles of our TICAD process are transparency, consistency, and follow-ups,” Kono told a press conference after the meeting, which preceded the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development, scheduled to be held in Yokohama next August.
His remarks came amid growing concern about defaults by some African countries borrowing heavily from other countries, particularly China, which has been increasing its clout in the continent with massive investment.
In 2016, Japan pledged $30 billion of development assistance from both the government and private sector for Africa over a three-year period.
But Kono acknowledged that progress made so far has not been sufficient, saying the “deterioration of debt sustainability” in some African countries has prevented Japan from extending yen loans.
In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to extend $60 billion in financing to Africa in the latest attempt by Beijing to court African countries.
Enhancing connectivity through quality infrastructure is important for Africa to engage in global trade and seek growth led by the continent, according to a co-chairs’ summary released after the meeting.
The delegates also called for digital, institutional and people-to-people connectivity as all of the domains are “central” to Africa’s development, the summary said.
Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s minister of state for foreign affairs who represented the African Union Commission at the meeting, expressed Africa’s hope to make the next TICAD summit focus more on business.
He told the post-meeting press conference that Japanese and African leaders should talk about quality infrastructure, trade and investment as well as the engagement of small and medium-sized companies.
“Africa welcomes Japanese investments as they bring infrastructure, technology and knowledge transfers,” Nduhungirehe said.
Japan launched the TICAD framework in 1993 to put sharper international focus on African development. Africa now faces more diverse and complex needs in the face of economic growth.
Under its strategy to realize a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, Japan seeks to enhance connectivity from Asia all the way to Africa. It also aims to promote health care coverage for all and share knowledge and expertise in disaster response and prevention.
The promotion of quality infrastructure is one of the initiatives undertaken by Tokyo, not just in Africa but in Southeast Asia.
Japan and Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River are scheduled to hold a summit on Tuesday in Tokyo with connectivity high on the agenda.