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The 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) Conference held recently in Yokohama failed the expectation of many Africans.
The TICAD V conference sponsored by the government of Japan brought together 40 presidents and heads of state from Africa to discuss the way forward for Japan-Africa cooperation.
However, many observers felt that the conference failed to realize the expectations of many Africans and NGO organizations, who felt that the conference once again focused on economic assistance by the government of Japan rather than political and governance issues.
Africa is in its second stage of development after the age of independence nearly 50 years ago. It is grappling with ethnic oriented conflicts, bad governance practice and topical diseases such as HIV/ AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis that are still killing people at an alarming rate.
Political stability in Africa requires immediate and urgent attention to enable the continent to realize peace and economic development.
Good governance practice in Africa is fundamental and therefore should not be ignored and taken for granted by Japan and other development partners.
Civil societies and nongovernmental organizations have been instrumental in ensuring good governance practice and respect for human rights by African leaders.
The government of Japan should not only thrive to become a partner in development with Africa, but should also play an integral and significant role in ensuring that good governance becomes the mode of leadership in Africa.
Besides economic support, Japan should also consider strengthening the capacities of civil society organizations in Africa to make them more viable and independent from manipulation by governments.
Africa's problem is not just economic but also political and therefore requires intervention by development partners like Japan. Even though several presidents and head of states from Africa attended the TICAD conglomeration in Yokohama, civil society and NGO representatives strongly feel that their mission was not focused and that they were more concerned on Japan supporting their countries individually and not collectively. They also feel that the conference should have been structured properly with an African agenda as the focus for discussion.
The government of Japan pledged 32 billion dollars for development through overseas development assistance (ODA) and private sector support during the TICAD V conference.
However, critics argue that Japan should change its strategy and focus more on capacity building matters on governance. It is no longer a secret that donor funding to most African governments does not reach the intended purpose, but instead end up in the pockets of a few politicians within the corridors of power.
The win-win policy or mutual benefit principle guiding the cooperation framework between Japan and Africa should be practical so that Japan does not fall in the bracket of development partners, who use the African platform for their own selfish interests and more so to exploit natural resources in Africa.
The win-win policy can be beneficial to Africa also if it sets out its cooperation agenda clearly and visibly and also if Africa takes advantage of the development status of their partners such as Japan etc.
Civil society and NGO organizations in Africa are doubtful whether African leaders are committed to TICAD and more so if they are taking advantage of such important partnerships to advance their cause and to enhance their development and political agendas.
According to the Civic Commission of Africa (CCfA), African leaders are simply not serious about TICAD and are not committed to it, unlike Japan.
Maungo Mooki, vice president of CCfA, observed that even though Japan might have its own hidden agenda, such as seeking Africa's support to secure a seat in the United Nations or to counter China's influence in Africa, it is more sincere and committed to the spirit of cooperation than Africa.
It is demeaning and sad for African leaders to lead big delegations to international conferences like TICAD V without being interactive, thereby denying delegates opportunities to debate pertinent issues affecting the continent. Most African leaders spent less than 5 minutes reading short statements prepared by their technocrats.
Because of the vulnerability, ignorance and short sightedness of its leaders, Africa continues to be exploited and manipulated by certain development partners, who drive their own personal agendas by using Africa as a platform and support base.
Japan is a world power and therefore has a lot to offer Africa in terms of development and political stability, while Africa has a lot that it can learn and borrow from Japan.
Unlike other development partners of Africa, Japan stands out strongly because it is respected and admired by Africa. Africa sees Japan as more neutral, honest, reliable, dependable and less ambitious.
Some people argue that the future of Africa depends more on its relationship with Japan than any other development partners. Forums such as TICAD are meaningless if Africa leaders do not present and project dreams that can take Africa forward.
(This OP-ED piece was contributed by Denise A.O. Kodhe, executive director of the Nairobi-based Institute for Democracy & Leadership in Africa, known as IDEA.)