Japan’s JICA will work to help “late-coming countries” post-Covid-19

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Friday, 6 May 2022 15:26, updated on Tuesday, 10 May 2022 10:25

Leaders attend the JICA High Level Panel in Kenya's capital Nairobi
(L-R) Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Shinichi Kitaoka, Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina and economist Joseph Eugene Stiglitz at Colombia University attend the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) High Level Panel as part of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in Kenya's capital Nairobi, August 28, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Amidst growing competition for African resources, Japan is touting its role as a consistent partner in African infrastructure for 50 years. Diplomacy and aid are also high on Tokyo's agenda, with the Eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8) to be held in Tunisia on 27 and 28 August 2022, the second time the conference will be held on the continent. 

TICAD’s goals include advancing Tokyo’s interests in Africa and focusing on humanitarian concerns, something which will be prioritised post-pandemic.

Following former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s keen interest in providing a pledged $60bn in financial support, Japan will continue to fund infrastructure and social projects across the continent.

Speaking to Hiroyuki Yakushi, senior director of the planning and TICAD process division for the Africa department of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), he says the development organisation is eager to continue to fund infrastructure projects but says they “cannot take all the responsibility”.

Trade routes

A priority for JICA over the next year is the Northern Corridor, a multimodal trade route linking the Great Lakes Region with Mombasa. JICA has provided finance for the Mombasa Gate Bridge Construction Project, which seeks to enable easier circulation between the mainland and the southern coast. Yakushi says: “We can expect Mombasa to be one of the core centres for industrial development.”

Other priority infrastructure projects will be the West Africa Growth Ring, which runs from Cote d’Ivoire to Burkina Faso and Ghana, and the Nacala Corridor that passes from Mozambique through Malawi to Zambia.

JICA also supports the African Continental Free Trade Area. “Through our One-Stop Border Post [programme], we are facilitating trade in and between countries. In some countries, based on the request of the country, we might also support businesses so that they can attract investment from the private sector, which still takes some risks investing in Africa. So if it’s the law or regulation issues, we are very happy to support this kind of business,” Yakushi said.

One of the ways that JICA intends to support the business sector, particularly the manufacturing industry, is through the Kaizen approach, an improvement technique used in many Japanese fields after the Second World War. JICA’s Kaizen handbook will be published in July and is already being used in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Nigeria, among others, to encourage competitiveness in local enterprises.

Vaccine equity

On 30 March, JICA signed a loan agreement of up to $200m with the African Export-Import Bank to support Covid-19 responses through private-sector investment and financing the manufacturing of vaccines.

Over the past year and a half, the government of Japan contributed to the COVAX vaccine initiative, donating approximately $1bn to the organisation, as well as more than 40m doses of vaccines.

JICA will be working to build up what it calls “late-coming countries'” resilience to infectious diseases post-Covid-19. Currently, Africa is heavily reliant on vaccine donations, with 99% of vaccine doses originating from donations. “We have a uniqueness in our modernisation process,” says Yakushi, “We have been working in this area for about 40 years, but we tried to utilise our audits to meet the new needs for Africa, especially in the health sector.”

When addressing the healthcare sector, JICA uses a three-step strategy: treatment, precaution and prevention. “For the pre-treatment area, we are focusing on the capacity of hospitals for the treatment of infectious diseases and diagnostic capacity,” says Yakushi.

JICA plans to create and refurbish approximately 30 hospitals in Africa, working with the Africa CDC and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.

Post-pandemic, the organisation is also trying to support vaccine supply chains across the continent, as well as the promotion of handwashing and sanitation. Yakushi says: “We have been supporting some laboratories and research centres in different countries. We have experts working in the Africa CDC, and in Ghana, we have the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and the Kenya Medical Research Institute.”

“The continent itself can be resilient to infectious diseases, of course. So if something is happening in different parts of Africa, if one of the laboratories has new issues, then we should share the information as soon as possible [other] laboratories so that they could prepare for that.”

Supporting African ownership

JICA does not want to be associated with non-sustainable forms of aid, for which many more economically developed countries are often criticised. “We do not call it aid,” says Yakushi, “we are happy to support African ownership, in social and economic sectors, and with peace and stability issues.”

TICAD has adapted to changing needs to become less focused on development assistance and more focused on promoting a close-knit business relationship between the two countries. JICA emphasises the need for the public to trust and have trust in their respective governments: “We must preserve human dignity and human freedoms,” says Yakushi.

There is a regular focus on education, with the ABE initiative, a scholarship programme for 1,500 African students to attend institutes in Japan. JICA is hopeful that after they complete their education and stay working for Japanese companies, including SMEs, thereby promoting a cohesive working relationship with the continent and acting as “navigators” for Japanese companies.

With climate change becoming a bigger issue for many countries, JICA has invested in the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) programme, an agricultural initiative that aims to teach agricultural organisations techniques to improve rice yield and quality. By improving irrigation using better technology, JICA hopes to open local production to regional and global markets.

In 2018, CARD set a goal to double rice production on the continent to 56m tonnes by 2030. “We have to return back to the farmers directly, improving household income, so they can make a better livelihood for themselves,” says Yakushi.

The organisation says it “integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation in the planning of all projects across the continent, including in energy, transportation, urban development, agriculture, water management, disaster risk reduction, and forest conservation.”

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