Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged $30 billion over three years for Africa on Saturday in a virtual address to a development conference in Tunis aimed at countering China’s growing continental influence.
The eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8) is taking place in a “complex” international environment caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Japanese foreign ministry has said.
Tunisia, a host country, is among the countries most affected by global supply chain disruptions and price spikes triggered by these two factors, as it is highly dependent on imports and is not an energy player. .
In his opening address, Tunisian President Kais Saied urged delegates to “seek together ways for African people to realize the hopes and dreams of the first generation after independence.”
Praising Japan’s strong track record in developing and “preserving” its culture, he said “the world cannot go on as it was. With all its wealth and assets, Africa cannot see its people live in poverty”.
Kishida, speaking via live video from Tokyo after testing positive for Covid-19 a few days earlier, pledged that “Japan will invest both public and private funds worth $30 billion in over the next three years” across Africa.
“To improve the lives of Africans, we will provide up to $5 billion in co-financing with the African Development Bank,” he said.
The pledge comes as China consolidates its influence on the continent with its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, and experts raise concerns about the long-term viability of some African countries borrowing from Beijing. .
Japan’s initiative “includes up to $1 billion in a new special quota to be established by Japan to promote debt consolidation reforms” in Africa, the Japanese prime minister said.
He also pledged $300 million in co-financing with the African Development Bank to boost food production, pledging to help African countries address grain shortages caused by war in Ukraine, a major wheat producer. .
Senegalese President Macky Sall, current chairperson of the African Union, paid tribute to Africa’s “partnership” with Japan, praising “concrete results in the sectors of agriculture, health, education and water”.
He also called for a suspension of interest on debt owed to G20 countries, calling for a seat for the continent at the upcoming G20 summit.
On the eve of TICAD, Morocco withdrew from the event and recalled its ambassador from Tunisia for consultations, after Saied hosted the leader of the Polisario secessionist movement of Western Sahara.
Tunis in turn said it would recall its own ambassador from Rabat, stressing its “total neutrality” on Western Sahara, a territory Rabat considers an integral part of Morocco.
Sall said he “regrets the absence of Morocco”, expressing hope for a solution to the disagreement.
This is the first TICAD – held every three years in Japan or an African country – since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Japanese delegation is led by Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and has around 5,000 participants.
Among them are 48 representatives of African countries, including at least 20 heads of state or government, according to Tunisian diplomatic sources.
A clever promotional video says the conference aims to promote “African-led development in Africa”.
But no journalists from African media had access to the delegates before the event, except for Tunisian state media, alongside Japanese journalists.
The conference angered Tunisians as major road closures threatened to disrupt traffic in the capital.
Authorities have beautified parts of the city likely to be seen by delegates and dug up roadside factories, but those efforts have also drawn ire from social media users.
“I feel deeply insulted by cleaning up Tunis for TICAD,” wrote a Tunisian on Twitter, saying that “those we pay to make our lives easier” should instead focus on making the capital livable for people. citizens all year round.