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Japan trips over African indebtedness to avail ODA through TICAD VII
Shigeru Ushio, Assistant Minister and Director-General for African Affairs Department

Japan trips over African indebtedness to avail ODA through TICAD VII

With less than two months left until the upcoming Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which is scheduled to be held in the Tourist-marvel city of Yokohama, the Japanese foreign assistance apparatus is still pondering over the level of envelope Official Development Assistance (ODA) package for African economies, to be announced for the coming three years.

As it is customary to past TICADs, Japan announces broad financial and technical resources that it is prepared to avail for African countries during the course of one TICAD cycle, which is three to five years. Accordingly, during the highly publicized TICAD VI held in Nairobi, Kenya, the first time to be held in Africa, the Japanese delegation led by the country’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has wowed the continent with an envelope assistance package of USD 33 billion to be availed in the subsequent years and to be shared by quality government infrastructure investments, sustainable development agendas and private sector projects.

Back then, Abe and his delegation were riding high on the success of the USD 32 billion assistance, which Japan has provided under the TICAD V framework three years earlier, and earmarked for investment in the five years’ time. True to form, close to 67 percent of TICAD V’s earmarked resources were already invested during the Nairobi’s conference and with still two years to spare.

Apparently, concerns started to creep up with TICAD VI commitment and the absorption capacity of African countries which were becoming increasingly indebted in recent years. That is why, Shigeru Ushio, Assistant Minister and Director-General for African Affairs Department with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), said this week that the assistance package for Africa to be announced at TICAD VII is still under discussion and that rising external debt levels in the beneficiary countries is the main reason behind this caution approach.

During a briefing he gave on Thursday in at the Ministry, in Tokyo, Ushio admitted that rising debt levels had become an obstacle during the implementation of TICAD VI ODA commitments to African countries. Although Ushio did say that all previous TICAD commitments has been met by Japan as it is constantly monitored and evaluated by a ministerial follow up group, he did confirm that his government is cautious about announcing additional resource commitments to African countries due to their heavy indebtedness.

In fact, Ushio also underlined that, going forward, TICAD would not continue to be a platform where his government would announce actual financial resource commitments, but a stage where it unveils available resources for illegible and qualified takers.

Apart from that, Ushio also spoke about the preparation for this year’s TICAD which will focus on three pillars: Economic structural transformation, advancing the sustainable development agenda (including health and the environment) and supporting African countries to be self-reliant in ensuring peace and stability in their continent. According to the director, Japan is increasingly becoming champion of self-reliant solution for Africa’s peace and development in their own continent and will work to support that goal using the TICAD platform.

According to him, TICAD VII is expected to see a number side events and meetings. The conference will also host close hundreds side symposiums and works shops and exhibitions between August 28 and 30, 2019. Furthermore, the Emperor and Empress of Japan will also grace the conference and hand out awards to this year’s chosen achievers.

Holding its first meeting 1993, close to three decades ago, TICAD is a pioneer in terms of institutionalizing trade and development consultation with African countries. Nevertheless, some 26 years in, TICAD is still holding only its seventh meeting with African countries, whereas countries like India, China and Turkey has adopted the joint conference idea and run with it.

In fact, months before the announcement of USD 33 billion support by Japan in 2016, through its Sino-African forum, China had announced its allocation of USD 60 billion to African economies. Similarly, recently, through its Belt and Road initiative, China has continued to avail more development assistance to Africa countries.

According to the director, the level of business interest which is being displayed by the Japanese private sector is also new during this TICAD. In fact, he spoke of the African-Japanese business conference which is being held every year.

"We consider it to be a good thing that Japan is no longer the only one [engaging with Africa] and that many other stakeholders are engaging themselves for the development of  Africa. After 26 years from the first session, TICAD  beginning to shift its strategy from ODA-centered to investment and business focused," Ushio added.