Next year there will be an international conference on Africa to be held in Yokohama; it is called the Tokyo (not Yokohama) International Conference on African Development, TICAD in short. Interestingly enough, this is a Japanese government initiative to tackle economic, political, and social problems in Africa, in close cooperation with the United Nations and the World Bank.
Generally speaking, Africa is very remote to the Japanese in terms of not only geographical distance, but also in the minds of many Japanese. My immediate reaction to TICAD was: “What is the point of the Japanese government involvement?” “What is Africa to the Japanese?”
In order to seek some insight, I have started to check the web sites of Japanese government ministries and related organizations. As a result, I have come across a brochure entitled “Japan and Africa”, published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which summarizes the keynote of Africa as “Africa still faces many problems; but once they are properly taken care of, a bright future lies ahead. Africa could become the core of development for the 21st Century, globally. The international community, including Japan, therefore is focusing on assisting Africa to achieve stability and development.”
Now, coming back to TICAD, Japan decided to lead such an international forum, perhaps to gain the minds as well as UN votes of African states; the first TICAD took place in 1993 at a time when global attention on Africa seemed to be at its lowest due largely to the East-West detente.
Every 5 years, TICAD is held. In 2003, prime minister Koizumi at that time set up three principles for the Japanese assistance to Africa: firstly “human resources development”, secondly “poverty elimination”, and lastly “the establishment of lasting peace”.
The latest international conference- dubbed TICAD-IV- was held in 2008, for the first time in Yokohama; more than 40 heads of state from Africa attended the conference.
Based on the outcome of previous activities, Japan pledged several important assistance programs to Africa such as: road and electricity infrastructure development, agriculture and food assistance, aid for the tourism industry, community development, education and human resources development, medical and welfare programs, water resources development, and lastly measures against global warming.
In 2009, there was a follow-up meeting in Botswana attended by respective ministers to review the implementation of TICAD-IV. So, hopefully both Japanese and African counterparts will exert themselves to accomplish their targets and be ready for TICAD-V in 2013.
Well, after a brief search on my part, I have found something that answers the above mentioned questions. But I am not so confident or comfortable about it: may be Africa has come closer to me, but not close enough.