The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) starts its seventh summit conference Wednesday in Yokohama, aiming to further strengthen Japan’s ties with African countries through various development programs and private investment.
Charles Boliko, director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in Japan, explains to The Japan News how we should view and tackle African problems, long entangled by factors such as conflicts, poverty and corruption.
According to the U.N. report on food security and nutrition released in July, the situation in Africa is the “most alarming,” especially in Eastern Africa where nearly 31 percent of the population is undernourished, the highest rate in the world.
Boliko was also alarmed by the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where “a sharp increase” in hunger and malnutrition can be seen. The report points out that economic slowdowns and downturns as well as climate and conflict issues are contributing factors to the situation.
Boliko, a native of Democratic Republic of Congo, pointed out that the problem in Africa lies largely in “corruption, not lack of aid.”
“For so long, there has been no strong political will” among many African leaders to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty, he said.
On the other hand, ironically, with the population in sub-Saharan Africa projected to double by 2050, exceeding 2 billion, Africa has been expected to become a potential market for foreign goods. This is one of the major reasons that have driven many countries, including China, India and South Korea, to establish platforms to explore building ties with Africa.
While the Japanese government launched TICAD in 1993, China established in 2000 the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), widely seen as the equivalent of TICAD, to accelerate its engagement with Africa. Regarding financial support to Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised at last year’s FOCAC funding of $60 billion over the next three years along with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged $30 billion of investment under public-private partnership over three years at TICAD 6 in Nairobi. TICAD has also evolved from conventional development assistance programs to business-oriented trade and investment, especially since the second half of the 2000s.
As a result, Japan and China have been seen in recent years as struggling over influence in the region through their respective African development platforms, which has roused calls for more coordinated efforts among countries to support African development.
Asked about how to look at the situation, Boliko said: “It’s not the amount of money. It’s how efficiently that money is going to be used on the ground to transform people’s lives.”
He also stressed that there is much more African leaders should do for development, such as tackling their “mismanagement, corruption and lack of political will.” Only Africa itself can trigger development, not the outside world, he added.
Boliko expects TICAD 7 will become the venue for considering “African development in all its complexity, developing human resources and governance.” In order to improve governance, he said, “you need to bring on board not only government, but all stakeholders including civil society, academia, the private sector, among others.”
Once that happens, he said, “we could go a long way to making a difference.”