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Sunday, May 25, 2008

AFRICA LIFELINE

Opportunity to knock on Japan's door at TICAD, Gabon envoy says


Staff writer

The upcoming conference on African development in Yokohama will showcase opportunities in resource-rich African countries that are hoping to build strategic partnerships with Japan, according to Gabon's ambassador to Japan.

News photo
Being diplomatic: Gabon Ambassador to Japan Jean Christian Obame speaks during an interview this month at his embassy in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"Why a strategic partnership? Because Africa has a lot to offer to Japan," Ambassador Jean Christian Obame said during a recent interview ahead of the May 28 to 30 Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama.

Japan launched the TICAD initiative in 1993 to put Africa's issues on the international agenda and to discuss measures to meet basic human needs and promote economic growth in Africa.

The TICAD meeting is held every five years, but the ambassador said that Africa wants this year's conference to be different from past meetings and to be "more action-oriented."

Indeed, as the ambassador pointed out, the environment surrounding the continent has changed greatly since the previous TICAD meeting.

Long plagued by shaky economics and unstable politics, many African countries have finally managed to establish rapid economic growth in recent years.

Part of that burgeoning success is because of Africa's rich natural resources, which are being coveted more than ever by the developed countries. From oil, gas and iron to diamonds, gold and other precious metals, African countries have reserves of these commodities that are indispensable to nations with high-tech manufacturing industries.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Africa accounts for 89 percent of the world's total reserves of platinum, 60 percent of its diamonds, 53 percent of the cobalt, 37 percent of the zirconium and 34 percent of the chrome.

"Japan needs natural resources. It should be a reason for Japan to strengthen partnership," the ambassador said.

Obame also said that Africa is a potentially big consumer market. With a population of 925 million, a figure that is set to double by around 2040 or 2050, Africa is just a market waiting to be tapped.

"This is a very big market for Japan," Obame said.

Recently, however, Japan's presence as a big aid donor has declined as China and major Western countries aggressively boosted their assistance to African nations.

"I think the reality is that TICAD is no longer the only initiative focusing on African development," the ambassador said.

Obame said that while China has been very quick with its decisions on extending aid, Japan has been slower to respond than other nations.

But African nations are not attending TICAD to compare initiatives from partners, he said.

"The purpose (of this TICAD meeting) is to put more emphasis on the effectiveness of initiatives," he said.

Obame said African nations need more yen-loans to finance infrastructure projects and measures to facilitate private-sector investment in Africa as a supplement to debt relief or grant aid.

Obame hopes that Japan will launch new initiatives to promote partnership between the public and private sectors by gaining more momentum at the upcoming TICAD meeting.

"The bottom line is that the time has come for Japan to be a really strategic partner for Africa for the mutual benefit of both," he said.



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