|African and Japanese leaders hold a bilateral meeting ahead of the Tokyo International Conference Photo by AFP|
YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) - Japan is wooing African nations, promising 3.2 trillion yen ($32 billion) as government and private-sector aid to foster growth in a region that is increasingly an appealing market and business partner.
The package for the next five years, including 1.4 trillion yen ($14 billion) in government aid called ODA, or official development assistance, was announced at a three-day conference in Yokohama, near Tokyo, opening Saturday.
Japan is eager to catch up with neighboring Asian rival China, which has a big head start in courting Africa, investing heavily in infrastructure projects.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office late last year, is bullish about investing in and exporting to Africa.
"What Africa needs now is private sector investment," he said in his opening speech, in between meetings with officials from African nations, including Zimbabwe, Ghana, Sudan and Kenya.
"If we recognize this as a new reality, then it will be necessary to revolutionize the way of providing assistance to Africa," he said.
Among other measures, Tokyo will invite 1,000 people from Africa to study and work as interns at Japanese companies, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Japan will also provide 650 billion yen ($6.5 billion) in assistance for infrastructure projects, including support for transportation in cities, it said. Aid for education, farming, energy projects and water sanitation is also being offered.
"Africa could be the next global growth pole," said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Japan's conference for Africa, held every five years, began in 1993, and the latest is the fifth such gathering. Japanese companies have set up booths, to showcase their efforts to win business in Africa, such as Nissin Foods, the maker of Cup Noodles.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took part in the conference and urged the world to do more to ensure security in the region, noting the value of investing in Africa is now clear.
"But millions of Africans still lack jobs, health care and food. Too many suffer in conflict. To find solutions, we must address the links between peace, security and government," he said.