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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

AFRICA LIFELINE

Fukuda slates scores of Africa minisummits at TICAD


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Leaders from all but one African nation have arrived in Yokohama to attend the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which kicks off Wednesday to explore ways to promote economic growth and fight poverty.

News photo
Getting dirty: U2 band leader Bono plants a tree with children Tuesday during an event on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. The Umi-no-Mori event was part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Green Island project. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

All 53 African countries except Somalia have sent delegations to Yokohama, including top leaders from 40 countries — either a king, president, vice president or prime minister.

At the outset of TICAD IV, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will announce new initiatives to help African development, including a pledge to double Japan's official development assistance to ¥200 billion and help double private-sector investment to ¥340 billion over the next five years.

Fukuda plans to meet with all of the top leaders of the 40 countries, with each chat lasting up to 20 minutes, including time for translation.

"Prime Minister Fukuda will energetically have separate summits through Friday morning — an amazing schedule," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday.

In the last TICAD meeting in 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met 19 top African leaders in a single day. He still remembers the "very tough experience," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

But Fukuda should consider the tight schedule worth it. Tokyo is boosting assistance to Africa, trying to revive Japan's diplomatic clout as a major aid donor.

Recent price surges in oil, metals and food products on global markets have also drawn the strategic attention of many aid donors to the resource-rich African nations.

This time, TICAD participants will discuss three main themes — boosting economic growth, ensuring human security and addressing environmental issues, particularly climate change — in a variety of meetings and symposiums.

This TICAD also comes at a time when many African nations are posting rapid economic growth, thanks in part to the recent price spikes in resources, including oil and metals.

Poverty, however, is still a major problem despite significant improvement in resource-rich states. People living on less than $1 a day accounted for 41 percent of sub-Sahara Africa's population in 2004, the Foreign Ministry said.

"Africa has achieved rapid development and is undergoing great changes," Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told a reception Tuesday night.

Friday's TICAD session is expected to adopt three main documents — the Yokohama Declaration, action plans and followup agenda mechanisms.

On Tuesday afternoon, a ministerial-level meeting of 52 countries attended by 260 people was held to examine the wording of prepared drafts for the three documents.

Participants approved the content of the drafts, but many argued that the wording on concerns over recent global food price hikes should be strengthened, according to a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters.

A preparatory meeting for TICAD IV was held in Gabon in March. At that time, the food price crisis, which has affected the poor in developing countries, was not such a strong concern of TICAD members, according to the official.



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