Africa Region Vice President Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili made a visit to Tokyo on December 12-14, where she spent two days talking to numerous stakeholders in government, civil society, business and the media, making a passionate case for Africa during a Foreign Correspondents’ Club media luncheon.
Japan will be the center of attention for the African development agenda in May 2008 as it hosts the fifth annual Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV), where over 40 African heads of state are expected. Later in the year, Japan will chair the G-8 Summit at the Lake Toya resort on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Close collaboration between Japan, the Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and other global donors will be critical to produce concrete outcomes for Africa. While Japan has long been an active donor in African development projects, the visit by Ezekwesili, an African and former Cabinet Minister in Nigeria, to address questions and concerns among Japanese government officials clearly resonated with local audiences and had an impact.
“Japan is a very important, strategic international player in the world,” Ezekwesili announced to a full house at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. “It has a huge responsibility and it gives me great delight that the people and the government of Japan recognize that responsibility towards Africa should not be undervalued.”
During her visit, Ezekwesili stressed that Africa is turning a corner in its development history, with growth holding steady in many countries above five percent and moving forward even faster in countries that are exploiting their wealth in natural resources. But, she said, another group of countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, are not growing even at the same rate as population growth, and it is here where the efforts of the international development community must be redoubled.
The visit by the Bank’s Africa region vice president came just as Japan’s contribution to the International Development Association (IDA-15) replenishment became public. The visit is part of strategic efforts by the Bank to raise awareness and commitment to Africa.
The TICAD conference is also expected to create momentum for the African development aid agenda before the leaders of the major industrial nations meet at the G-8 Summit.
Ezekwesili noted that around 50 percent of IDA’s resources are directed to Africa and she appreciated the extraordinary efforts made by Japan to maintain its role as the third largest donor to IDA with a substantial contribution of $3.2 billion.
ormer Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (center) Chairman of the Japan-AU Parliamentary Friendship League with Lower House MP Seiken Sugiura, League Secretary General and Upper House MP Tetsuro Yano, League Vice Chairman, discussed planning for TICAD IV with Oby.
In making her case for continued and even more aggressive political support for Africa, Ezekwesili called for Japan’s expertise in the infrastructure, education and telecommunications sectors to be put to best use in its Africa programs. She described some of the Bank’s success stories in education, microfinance, and infrastructure -- the IDA-financed Bujagali Dam project in Uganda -- while maintaining that ending corruption and building strong institutions to support governance reforms are essential for Africa’s future.
In two short days Ezekwesilispoke to a highly diverse group of stakeholders, including former Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party power-broker Yoshiro Mori, a champion for Africa in Japan and founder of the Japan-African Union Parliamentarian Friendship League and the Tokyo African Diplomatic Corps, where African ambassadors detailed their aspirations for a “real action plan” to come out of TICAD IV.
Ezekwesili also held bilateral meetings with officials from Japan’s Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, and the major Japanese development agencies JBIC and JICA . She also attended a breakfast with Japan’s PNoWB (Parliamentary Network on the World Bank) where she addressed the concerns of several MPs about aid delivery in Africa. She also met with the chairman of JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) and representatives of business and civil society.
Ezekwesili’s messages were aimed at reinforcing efforts by the Bank at consolidating political and public support in Japan during the critical year ahead, but her visit was not an ordinary one. She ended by showing the way forward and passionately arguing the case for Africa.
“The Africa that I want to talk to you about today is an Africa that has shown in the last decade that it can compete and can integrate into the rest of the global economy, and that there is nothing that holds it down to perennial failure.”
There was an unmistakable optimism and passion about the future of the continent during the conference. The message: things in Africa are turning a corner. The timeliness of the mission was not missed by key players in Japan’s development aid community.
Ezekwesili is Nigerian by birth, a former Minister of Education in Nigeria, and took over as vice president for the Africa region in May of this year.
* Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD)
* Africa Region Office of the Vice President
* Africa Region Partnerships