Sustainable development in the 21st century: Securing Japan’s role as a global leader for African development

Two events this year – the recent Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) and the Group of Eight Summit in July – present unique opportunities for Japan to demonstrate its fruitful partnership with the African continent and global leadership on sustainable development.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick gestures at a news conference during the spring IMF-World Bank meeting at the International Monetary Fund headquarters building in Washington April 10, 2008.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick gestures at a news conference during the spring IMF-World Bank meeting at the International Monetary Fund headquarters building in Washington April 10, 2008.

Two events this year – the recent Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) and the Group of Eight Summit in July – present unique opportunities for Japan to demonstrate its fruitful partnership with the African continent and global leadership on sustainable development.

At the conference, Africa’s story was the headline. The sub-text was clearly about the significant strides the region had been making to secure economic growth, improve social well-being, and foster environmental protection.

The TICAD conference takes place once every five years. And the privilege of hosting the Group of Eight Summit on Japanese soil comes only once every eight years. These platforms provide an opportunity to catalyze actions and forge partnerships that will make sustainable development a reality across Africa.

Africa is on the rise. Economic growth is up, conflicts are down, and there is a growing sense of optimism across the continent. The steady pace at which many African economies are growing – averaging 5.4 percent a year for the past three years – would be a source of envy for many industrialized countries. On the business front, Africa is increasingly competitive. 

Ghana and Kenya were ranked among the top 10 business-friendly economies in 2008, even as the latter has suffered a temporary setback. More children are going to school, and remaining in school. Health indicators are up, and child mortality is decreasing. Nearly half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives in countries that are rich in oil, gas or hard mineral resources.

The unprecedented boom in commodity prices offers new opportunities to mobilize mineral wealth for sustainable development. But as recent events have shown, development gains are fragile. New risks are emerging:  soaring prices of basic food grains, rising incidence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, and increasingly, threats posed by a changing climate.

In the past year, wheat price has gone up by 120%. Rice prices have skyrocketed to near historic levels – rising about 75% globally (see Figure 1). Painful as these price increases are to the consumers in industrialized countries, they strike an even more devastating blow to the world’s poorest people – children, as young as four or five, forced to flee the safety of their rural communities to fight for food in teeming cities; mothers deprived of nutrition for healthy babies. 

For these families, food purchases account for anywhere between 50 to 75 percent of income, leaving no margin for survival.

Source: World Bank

Over the last couple of months, riots have broken out in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Mozambique, and Senegal. According to World Bank estimates, the price spike could push over 100 million people deeper into poverty, wiping out seven years of hard-won development gains.

The World Bank is doing its part, and strengthening its cooperation with its partners, including Japan. World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently called for a “New Deal on Global Food Policy” that was endorsed by 180 ministers.

To help African countries cope with the food crisis, the World Bank is making $100 million available to Burundi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Cote-d’Ivoire, while countries survey their needs for further support. 

In May, 16 African countries met in South Africa to prepare action plans to respond to high food prices. This timely initiative, under the auspices of the African Union and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a prime example of African-led efforts for African development, and worthy of international support.

Japan’s Development Experiences and Lessons for Africa

Japan’s dramatic success in transforming its post-war economy and emergence as an industrial superpower hold powerful lessons for African development. 

Japan’s formidable technological prowess and financial muscle can address critical development deficits, in Africa, and beyond.

Going forward, two areas – agriculture and infrastructure development – come to mind where Japanese interventions could deliver lasting development results.

Agriculture is a life line of African economies, frequently accounting for one-third to one-half of the gross domestic product of many nations. 

Boosting productivity on millions of small farms is vital for generating broad-based growth, increasing food availability and cutting poverty. 

Over a generation ago, the Green Revolution boosted food production in Asia and Latin America, transforming food-deficit countries into grain exporters. 

But it bypassed Africa. A new, greener revolution, with a smaller ecological footprint is urgently needed for Africa. For many Africans, rice is food.

With Japanese support, the New Rices for Africa (NERICAs) program is spelling hope. Nations in western Africa pay $2 billion annually for imported rice. 

A bigger push, involving the private sector is needed for rice and other staple crops – beans, cassava, maize, pearl millet, sorghum and other crops that are a mainstay of African diets. 

Cutting-edge agricultural technologies are necessary for raising farm productivity, and Japan has a lot to offer in this area, including support for agricultural R&D.

The World Bank recognizes the importance of the farm sector. Our flagship 2008 World Development Report focused on the importance of agriculture for sustainable development. 

We are nearly doubling our agricultural lending, from $450 million to $800 million in Africa. We are heartened that Japan is contributing $100 million for emergency food assistance programs, providing a much needed boost. 

And it is gratifying that the food crisis will feature prominently at the Group of Eight Summit, heeding Prime Minister Fukuda’s call for more attention on this crucial area.

The second priority area is infrastructure development. Africa faces huge challenges in this area. Poor infrastructure is weakening Africa’s ability to provide its citizens with decent education and health services, and preventing farmers from accessing lucrative regional and overseas markets.

Japan’s massive and unparalleled domestic investments in infrastructure and water resources management offer useful lessons for Africa. The fact that only one in four Africans has access to electricity, and less than five percent of Africa’s hydropower potential has been tapped shows the great potential for infusing technology-led private sector investment in this area.

Japan’s focus on sustained investments in hydraulic infrastructure to regulate river flows, improve water and sanitation services in booming urban centers, providing reliable irrigation, and improving flood control offer important lessons for all developing countries. 

Japan’s scaled-up investments in African infrastructure provide a much-needed booster effect, giving Japan the moral authority to highlight Africa’s infrastructure challenges during the Group of Eight Summit.

Japan has long been a steadfast supporter of the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional financing arm for the poorest countries. 

Thanks also to Japan’s support, the 15th replenishment of IDA netted $42 billion to finance the fight against poverty over the next three years. Some 40 African heads of state came together for the TICAD meeting hosted by the Government of Japan. 

We are at the mid-point in our journey to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that have a target date of 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa will not achieve the first MDG of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.  

Eighty percent of countries in the region show poor progress on improved sanitation, and 44 percent of the population still lacks access to clean water. The region lost 9 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005. 

And with over 22 million people infected with HIV virus, Sub-Saharan Africa is tragically the global epicenter of the disease.

These are the hard facts. But there is also place for human imagination, to think beyond the narrow confines of problems, marshal the power of collective action, and grasp new opportunities. 

In that sense, the storied locales of Yokohama and Hokkaido Toyako could well serve as the launching pad for new initiatives in international development cooperation, and become the new “Kyoto” of focused poverty reduction efforts.

It is my fervent hope that by working together, Japan, the World Bank, and the international community can lay the foundations for strengthened development cooperation to achieve the MDGs, and help Africa reach its full potential. That must be the enduring legacy of TICAD and the Group of Eight Summit.

The writer is World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region. The paper was first published by the Japanese mass circulation daily, Nikkei.

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