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UNITED NATIONS: Africa Keeps Japan Guessing on Security Council Seat

Analysis by Ramesh Jaura

YOKOHAMA, Japan, Jun 4 2008 (IPS) - If the Japanese government was expecting assurances from African nations that they would support its bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, they have reason to be disappointed with the outcome of the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) last week.

Africa accounts for some 25 percent of the 192 General Assembly members, and would carry considerable weight when it comes to a vote on the reform of the world body to enlarge the Security Council's permanent membership.

The overarching theme of the three-day conference May 28-30 in the port city of Yokohama near Tokyo was not the reform of the Security Council but 'Towards a Vibrant Africa: a Continent of Hope and Opportunity'.

The discussions, therefore, focussed on boosting economic growth; ensuring 'human security', including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the consolidation of peace and good governance; and addressing environmental issues and climate change.

But senior government officials and influential members of the Japanese parliament, who did not want to be named, made no secret of the fact that they hoped for African support at the UN.

The TICAD process was initiated in 1993 when "aid fatigue" had set in after the end of the Cold War during which former colonial powers and the U.S. provided development assistance to keep Africa away from the communist countries headed by the Soviet Union.

The TICAD process, backed by the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser for Africa (UNOSAA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, continued with TICAD II in 1998 and TICAD III in 2003. It has evolved into a major global framework to facilitate initiatives for African development.

TICAD IV, the latest, came at a time when Africa's average economic growth rate has reached 6 percent, peace-building and democratisation are taking hold, and countries are tackling climate change and environmental concerns.

Fifty-one out of 53 African countries took part in the fourth round of TICAD, 40 through their presidents, vice-presidents or prime ministers. Other participants included 74 international and regional organisations, the private sector, civil society organisations, and eminent individuals such as Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Matthai.

Also participating in the conference were representatives from 34 partner countries, including the G8 major industrial nations, and Asian countries.

"TICAD IV became one of the biggest international conferences ever held by the Japanese government," a senior Japanese foreign ministry official said. "I feel that trust between African countries and Japan has crystallised."

This was no less due to the bilateral meetings Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had with 40 leaders of African countries. He received what the foreign ministry official described as "varying responses".

The strongest support would appear to have come from President John Kufuor of Ghana. "We will support Japan becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council," he said.

However, the response from some other countries was far from encouraging. "I will take the issue back to my country and examine it," said President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia.

Summing up African responses, the Japanese official said: "Most participating countries showed understanding or support on the (UN) issue. However, only a few countries went beyond their past stances and expressed their support for our bid."

"Algeria, Egypt, Libya said they won't approve the Security Council reform if they can't become a permanent member themselves. Some countries are showing superficial support for Japan while in their hearts they are less than supportive," according to a comment on the online edition of the respected Japanese daily Yomiuri.

External affairs ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama denied reports in some newspapers that along with China and India, Japan was simply joining the run for Africa's rich resources. But he was keen to point out that African participation in TICAD IV was higher than in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) last year in Beijing. Also, a larger number of African countries (40) were represented by their heads of government or state at the Tokyo conference than at the Beijing meet (35).

Yet, Japan has a long way to go to compete with China in its trade with Africa. China's trade with African countries amounted to 73.5 billion dollars in 2007. The trade between Japan and Africa added up to 26.6 billion dollars.

Japan announced a wide set of measures at TICAD IV to reinforce relations with Africa. These include doubling Japan's official development assistance (ODA) to Africa in the next five years, bringing annual aid from the current 900 million dollars to 1.8 billion dollars by 2012.

Japan will also provide up to 4 billion dollars of soft loans to Africa over the next five years to help improve infrastructure.

Prime Minister Fukuda has also pledged to provide 50 million dollars to help developing countries, including those in Africa, increase food production, in addition to the 100 million dollars in aid already given. The money will be used to provide seeds, fertiliser and machinery to poor farmers to help them produce more food, Japanese officials said.

But African countries are of the view that Japan, the world's second largest economy, should be doing more. In a keynote address on May 28, Tanzania's President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, who also holds the chair the African Union (AU), welcomed the announcement of more aid by the Japanese Prime Minister, but said: "Africa needs more ODA to develop its infrastructure, develop its human capital, and improve the provision of basic social and economic services."

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