Africa keeps Japan guessing

If the Japanese government was expecting assurances from African nations that they would support its bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, they have reason to be disappointed with the outcome of the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) last week. Africa accounts for some 25% of the 192 General Assembly members, and would carry considerable weight when it comes to a vote on the reform of the world body to enlarge the Security Council’s permanent membership. The overarching theme of the three-day conference May 28-30 in the port city of Yokohama near Tokyo was not the reform of the Security Council but ‘Towards a Vibrant Africa: a Continent of Hope and Opportunity’.

The discussions, therefore, focussed on boosting economic growth; ensuring ‘human security’, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the consolidation of peace and good governance; and addressing environmental issues and climate change. But senior government officials and influential members of the Japanese parliament, who did not want to be named, made no secret of the fact that they hoped for African support at the UN. The TICAD process was initiated in 1993 when “aid fatigue” had set in after the end of the Cold War during which former colonial powers and the US provided development assistance to keep Africa away from the communist countries headed by the Soviet Union.

The TICAD process, backed by the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser for Africa (UNOSAA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, continued with TICAD II in 1998 and TICAD III in 2003. It has evolved into a major global framework to facilitate initiatives for African development. TICAD IV, the latest, came at a time when Africa’s average economic growth rate has reached 6%, peace-building and democratisation are taking hold, and countries are tackling climate change and environmental concerns.

Fifty-one out of 53 African countries took part in the fourth round of TICAD, 40 through their presidents, vice-presidents or PMs. Other participants included 74 international and regional organisations, the private sector, civil society organisations, and eminent individuals such as Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Matthai. Also participating in the conference were representatives from 34 partner countries, including the G8 major industrial nations, and Asian countries.

Summing up African responses, the Japanese official said: “Most countries showed understanding or support on the (UN) issue. But only a few expressed their support for our bid.” “Algeria, Egypt, Libya said they won’t approve the Security Council reform if they can’t become a permanent member themselves. Some countries are showing superficial support for Japan while in their hearts they are less than supportive,” as per a comment on Japanese daily Yomiuri.

In a keynote address on May 27, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, who also holds the chair of the African Union (AU), welcomed the announcement of more aid by the Japanese PM, but said: “Africa needs more ODA to develop its infrastructure, develop its human capital, and improve the provision of basic social and economic services.” — IPS