In the lead-up to the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), which will be held in Yokohama in June 2013, Amb. Comberbach presented an overview of the evolution of the TICAD process from its beginnings in 1993 — a time when “the African development agenda was slipping off the consciousness of the international community”. While at the outset the TICAD process was more unilateral (on the part of Japan), Africa has in recent years started to impose its priorities and development agenda.
At a time of rapid economic growth in many parts of the continent, Africa is now calling for Japan to move away from an Official Development Assistance (ODA) driven process towards a strategic partnership. Amb. Comberbach emphasized that Africans have the visions and the ideas, and that what they want is a partnership that would help them achieve their goals.
While welcoming the fact that TICAD has become a truly international process, the ambassador pointed out that its growth had resulted in the available funding being spread out among more actors (including non-governmental organization, development agencies and international organizations). As a result, he said, the funding is having a lesser impact in some areas.
Turning to the growing role of Asian countries in the African continent, the ambassador contrasted the TICAD process with other Asia–Africa partnership forums that have emerged in recent years, such as the China–Africa and the India–Africa forums. The ambassador explained that the increasing importance of the partnerships with China and India has contributed to a shift in the TICAD process. Since TICAD IV (held in Yokohama in 2008), there has been a greater focus on economic growth and the private sector in Africa, as well as closer alignment with the priorities defined by the African Union.
Following his presentation, the ambassador engaged in a lively question and answer period with the audience. Asked about the impact of Japanese investments, Amb. Comberbach explained that Japan has contributed to positive changes in the education sector, boosting interest in mathematics and science through the improvement of teaching methods. He further highlighted Japan’s provision of medical equipment as well as training for medical personnel, with positive impacts on public health in many countries.
In closing, the ambassador expressed great optimism for TICAD V, stressing the tremendous respect for Japan among all African stakeholders.
Amb. Comberbach’s lecture was part of UNU’s Ambassador Lecture Series, a forum that provides an opportunity for the University’s students, fellows and interns to directly engage with government officials on political, economic and social issues.