Africa and Japan are Special Partners – JICA Chief

In August, 7 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7) will be held in Yokohama. Participants, including leaders from various African countries, private companies, researchers and many citizens’ groups, will discuss development initiatives for Africa from multiple angles.

JICA staff members, experts and stakeholders involved in Africa talk about how JICA has addressed Africa in the past and how it will in the future, based on their own experiences, referring to the key phrases “partnership,” “innovation,” “Japan’s strengths” and “years-long initiatives.”

Ryuichi Kato, Director General of the Africa Department of JICA, who has been involved in cooperation with Africa for many years, including assignments to Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal said “Africa and Japan are special partners that built up a relationship based on trust.

“Africa is rich in diversity and has many aspects to consider. The period since 2000, which was a turning point, has brought great changes, and Africa, which has been called ‘the continent that doesn’t experience economic growth’ has begun growing against a backdrop of steep rises in natural resource prices. Given that situation, opportunities are increasing for Japan to make Africa a growth partner, including at TICAD. Even so, based on the fact that the situation in each country varies greatly regarding such factors as the natural environment, ethnic groups, the presence or absence of natural resources and the quality of economic growth, we must approach countries carefully,” Mr. Kato said.

“Japan first held TICAD in 1993. The international community’s interest in Africa, which was an object of competition between East and West after the end of the Cold War, was fading. Japan proposed to Africa working together as equal partners on such problems as poverty reduction and economic development, and this had a big impact on the international community”

At TICAD V, which was held in Yokohama in 2013, the role of private investment was emphasized. And at TICAD VI, which was held in Kenya three years ago, the importance of public-private partnerships was endorsed. Based on these developments, “One theme at TICAD 7 will probably be the creation of innovative approaches that bring about new social impacts in response to issues facing Africa and public-private partnerships to realize them,” Mr. Kato said.

“Innovations applied first in Africa will be used in Japan, and both Africa and Japan will be enriched by them,” Mr. Kato said, citing such ingenuity as remote medical examinations using ICT and the use of drones to transport blood to depopulated areas.

In Ethiopia, a Japanese expert (center) works to improve productivity in a factory. JICA, which has bases in 33 countries in Africa, plays a vital role as a catalyst that understands local needs and issues and connects various partners including Japanese companies to the field, along with its experts who work in various specialties and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who work in remote areas.

For TICAD, which will be held in Japan for the first time in six years, Mr. Kato is emphasizing initiatives to connect various Japanese localities with Africa. “Matching with local SMEs that have the technology to solve Africa’s problems is essential to Africa’s growth. Also, students from Africa who study at universities in various places in Japan through the ABE Initiative and other JICA support programs are expected to tell people in those communities about Africa”

JICA’s distinctive practice of frequent dialogue remains fundamental

Though the forms of cooperation change with the times, such as when new technologies are adopted, at the foundation is the distinctively JICA stance of “providing cooperation while maintaining frequent dialogue to grasp partners’ needs,” which JICA has maintained since Japan held the first TICAD.

“In the fields of human resource development and infrastructure investment, JICA has been continuing initiatives in Africa that leverage Japanese strengths for many years,” Mr. Kato said. “Rather than forcing your logic on a country, it’s important to understand that country’s culture, society and economy while building a relationship of trust.”

Mr. Kato happened to be present at the site where civil war broke out in Côte d’Ivoire when he was assigned to the country. “I saw before my very eyes the reality of Africa that under a clear, quiet sky, the tranquility of yesterday can crumble in a moment. It was that moment I made up my mind that we would engage with Africa precisely because it faces such a grave situation.” Holding that idea close, Mr. Kato focuses on the future of Africa.

In 1987 Mr. Kato joined the Japan International Cooperation Agency. After working in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, he served his second appointment in Senegal from 2012 to 2016 as the chief representative of the JICA Senegal Office. He was born in Yamagata Prefecture.

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