/ 28 May 2008

Japan pledges to double aid to Africa

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pledged on Wednesday to double Tokyo’s aid to Africa by 2012 to spur growth and attract private investment — a model that helped propel post-war Japan into economic prosperity.

In particular, Japan will provide up to $4-billion in flexible, low-interest ”soft loans” to Africa over the next five years for infrastructure projects, Fukuda said at the start of the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

”In order to boost the momentum for African growth, the most important thing is the development of infrastructure,” Fukuda said. ”In particular, the experiences of Japan and other Asian countries tell us that improvements to transportation infrastructure play a critical role in attracting private investment.”

Aiming to double Japanese private investment in Africa, the country will also offer $2,5-billion in financial assistance through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Fukuda said.

Tokyo currently provides ¥100-billion ($1-billion) to Africa in official development assistance.

Although Japan was the world’s top donor in the early 1990s, its generosity has steadily fallen since then.

Japan’s net official development assistance in 2007 was $7,7-billion — down 30% from the previous year — dropping the country to fifth place among foreign aid donors, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Its latest move to inject more aid into Africa comes as rival China expands its presence on the continent through massive aid and oil-linked investment.

Japan, which recently announced a $100-million emergency food package, will direct much of those funds to Africa, Fukuda said. The prime minister also challenged Africa to double rice production to 14-million tonnes over the next 10 years, offering Japan’s technical expertise to help reach the goal.

”We are deeply concerned by the fact that many African countries are in great difficulty as a result of the recent sharp rise in food prices,” Fukuda said.

To address Africa’s shortage of healthcare providers, Japan will train 100 000 people in Africa over the next five years as healthcare workers, Fukuda said.

He also promoted Japan’s climate change initiative, through which it seeks to provide $10-billion over five years to help developing countries cut greenhouse gas emissions while boosting economic growth.

In a statement, anti-poverty group Oxfam International spokesperson Takumo Yamada said Japan needs to reverse its falling overseas aid.

”What Prime Minister Fukuda decides this week will set the tone for this summer’s G8 Summit where we expect action on the promises to Africa — not more rhetoric or fancy accounting,” Yamada said, referring to the G8 meeting of the world’s top leaders in July in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

Japan is hosting officials from major international organisations and about 40 African leaders for this week’s meeting, known as Ticad. – Sapa-AP