Japan has pledged $30bn in aid for development in Africa, saying it wants to work more closely with the continent at a time when the rules-based international order is under threat after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8) – the official name – also comes as Beijing cements its influence on the continent with its “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.
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Addressing the summit in Tunisia on Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo would work to ensure grain shipments to Africa amid a global shortage.
“If we give up on a rules-based society and permit unilateral changes of the status quo by force, the impact of that will extend not only through Africa, but all the world,” Kishida said by video link after testing positive for COVID-19.
Kishida said the $30bn in aid from Japan would be delivered over three years, promising smaller sums for food security in coordination with the African Development Bank.
The summit has given Tunisian President Kais Saied his biggest international platform since his 2019 election and follows his seizure of broad powers, formally enshrined through a constitutional referendum that his critics have labelled a coup.
In his opening speech at the conference, Saied urged delegates to “search together for ways for African peoples to achieve the hopes and dreams of the first generation after independence”.
He praised Japan’s success in “achieving development at the same time as preserve its culture and social traditions”.
“The world cannot continue as it was. With all its wealth and assets, Africa cannot watch its people live through poverty,” he said.
Saturday’s conference was the first TICAD – held every three years either in Japan or an African country – since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
At the last TICAD in 2019, former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe – who was assassinated at a campaign event last month – warned investors in Africa that they must avoid burdening countries on the continent with “excessive” debt, an apparent swipe at China’s investment practices in the region.
Speaking on Friday at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart, Tunisian foreign minister Othman Jerandi repeatedly emphasised Tunisia’s commitment to democracy, which has been questioned by Saied’s critics.
The summit also triggered a dispute between Tunisia and Morocco, which was angered by Saied’s decision to invite the Polisario Front that seeks independence for Western Sahara, a territory Rabat regards as its own.
Morocco and Tunisia have recalled their ambassadors from each other’s countries for consultations. Rabat said the decision to invite Polisario leader Brahim Ghali was made against Japan’s wishes. Tokyo has yet to comment.
Tunisia is itself in need of financial support as it faces a looming crisis in public finances that has been worsened by the global squeeze on commodities.
This week, long queues formed at petrol stations amid a fuel shortage, while shops have started rationing some goods.