Japan offers 100 bil. yen to boost security in Africa's Sahel region

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Sunday that Japan will offer 100 billion yen over the next five years to help restore peace and stability to Africa's conflict-and-terrorism-prone Sahel region.

"As Africa tries to achieve rapid economic growth through trade and investment, we should make efforts to enhance peace-building to create a society where people can feel safe and engage in social and economic activities," Abe said at an international conference on African development being held in Yokohama.

Abe said in his speech that peace is "the basic foundation" and explained that Japan knows this from its own experience of having enjoyed prosperity by "preserving peace and building a safe society."

The announcement was made on the second day of the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development where leaders and delegates from about 50 African countries are discussing a wide range of issues confronting the continent.

Tokyo is hoping to strengthen its bonds with Africa as an economic and investment partner, now that China has greater influence over the continent where robust growth is expected thanks to natural resources.

A series of sessions was held to discuss trade, investment, gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as what Africa should do after 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, a set of U.N. targets to address poverty, hunger and HIV on a global scale.

Tokyo's aid scheme is built on three pillars -- capacity building to fight terrorism and improve security, humanitarian and development assistance, and enhancing dialogue with countries in the Sahel belt in northern Africa, which includes parts of a number of countries such as Algeria and South Sudan.

Under the plan, which comes on top of 3.2 trillion yen in public and private sector assistance Japan announced Saturday, a total of 100 billion yen will go to building sound social systems in food, education and health -- areas in which Japan has strengths.

It involves strengthening governance as well as helping women to stand on their own and young people to get jobs, from the standpoint that eliminating factors such as poverty and disparities would reduce terrorism and instability.

In addition, 2,000 people in Africa will be trained to fight terrorism and enhance security in the Sahel and neighboring regions. Maritime security is also a challenge for Africa, and Japan's Self-Defense Forces will continue to help combat piracy in waters off Somalia.

Concerns about security in the region have mounted after the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy movements began in late 2010.

And for Japan, the hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant in January, which killed dozens of foreign nationals, including 10 Japanese, came as a "tremendous shock," Abe said.

"The hostage crisis made us feel once again that stability in the Sahel region that connects North and Sub-Saharan Africa is indispensable for northern and western Africa to prosper," the Japanese leader said.

Japanese companies operating in Africa or seeking to do so have called for improved security and protecting the lives of their employees.

During the day's discussions on security in Africa, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said peace and development are "mutually reinforcing."

Participants agreed in broad terms that Africa should take a comprehensive approach and use all resources, including foreign relations, to tackle the challenges that are transnational such as terrorism and piracy.

Zimbabwe called for reform of the U.N. Security Council as the current architecture where no African country has permanent membership is "incompatible" with today's world, and said the continent "is ready and willing to play its full part in the safeguarding of global peace and stability."