The higher education sector in Africa, in particular in areas of work linked to industrial development and infrastructure-building, will benefit from US$1.8 billion in official Japanese development assistance, which forms part of a total package of US$30 billion in public and private contributions to the continent.
This includes the education and training of 300,000 people on the continent over the next three years.
“Traditionally, Japan’s foreign assistance on infrastructure has accompanied activities for human resources development, including support for higher education. Development cannot be achieved only by constructing roads and buildings,” Professor Shoko Yamada of the Graduate School of International Development at Nagoya University in Japan told University World News.
She was responding to the announcements of Japan’s initiatives that were made during the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8) held in Tunisia at the end of August. TICAD was launched in 1993 to provide a platform to mobilise support for Africa’s development.
In a video address, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the training of the 300,000 people in the industrial, health, medicine, education, agriculture and justice sectors.
This initiative, he indicated, built on successes such as the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana where Japan has been contributing to the education of local researchers since the institute’s founding four decades ago and which is now playing an important role on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 in Western Africa.
In a speech that is viewed as stressing the difference between aid from Japan and that from China, he stated a commitment to help Africa to become resilient and sustainable. He said Africa, which is expected to account for a quarter of the world’s population by 2050, is a young and hopeful continent where dynamic growth must be expected.
According to Nagoya University’s Yamada, Japan’s human resources development assistance focuses on STEM fields (science, technology engineering and mathematics) in secondary education, technical and vocational education, and agriculture and engineering at university level. More recent priorities include information technology and innovation.
“Some initiatives exist to establish networks of universities between Japan and Africa to promote joint research and doctoral student exchanges,” she explained.
A key example of research collaboration is E-JUST (Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology), a project launched in 2008 under Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) to support technical cooperation and research between Japanese and Egyptian universities.
She said scholarships for foreign graduate students to study in Japanese universities are also a key aspect of higher education assistance.
According to the information note about TICAD 8, Japan aims to produce 5,000 highly skilled people and accept African students through the network between Japanese and African universities. It also envisages inviting approximately 500 young people to Japan every year for educational purposes.
The information note indicated that Japan wants to promote research cooperation in the field of science and technology through the Africa-Japan Collaborative Research, or AJ-CORE, Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development Program or SATREPS; conduct periodic forest monitoring through JJ-FAST (a web-based research system) and provide capacity-building for 100 people as well as train a total of 800 forest management personnel in 10 African countries.
African Development Bank sets up fund
This year’s conference was attended by 21 African heads of state, representatives from 48 African nations as well as heads of major international institutions, including the African Union, the United Nations, the UN Development Programme, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
On its part, the African Development Bank announced that it was complementing Japan’s youth-focused efforts.
Dr Akinwumi A Adesina, the head of the African Development Bank, announced the launch of an African Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Fund to drive knowledge-based economies with a sharp focus on the youth.
“Initiatives like the Japan Africa Dream Scholarship Program are just beginning. Together, we have a unique opportunity to reach millions of youth with education,” Adesina said in his statement. The announcement was part of a meeting organised by the bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency at TICAD 8 titled ‘The Value of Studying in Japan for Youth in Africa and Acceleration of the Partnership between Africa and Japan’.
At the end of the high-level meeting, the heads of state came up with resolutions named the TICAD 8 Tunis Declaration containing three pillars: structural transformation for sustainable economic growth and social development; realising a resilient and sustainable society as well as realising sustainable peace and stability on the continent.
“We also underscore the importance of investing in Africa’s digital transformation and ICT infrastructure including data infrastructure, putting in place digital industrial policies and building appropriate skills to engage in the digital economy, with a view to accelerating innovation through partnering between Japanese and African businesses,” according to the declaration.
African governments acknowledged Japan’s valuable contribution to human resources development in Africa and welcomed its continuation but raised concerns about the ongoing brain drain from Africa.
Japan’s development assistance focus
Experts explain Japan’s Africa ODA platform has entered a new phase with the prominence of China’s investment and assistance loans for infrastructure projects in the region.
For example, Japan’s new US$30 billion pledge falls short of the US$60 billion from China announced in 2018 at the China-Africa Cooperation Summit. Japan’s direct investment in Africa is also only about 10% of China’s total.
“China’s dominance in Africa changes the situation for Japan. With a smaller aid budget in comparison, Japan’s focus is to push its ODA policy that is based on self-help, mutual discussion and people-oriented projects,” explained Professor Akiyoshi Yonezawa, the vice director of the international strategy office at Tohoku University in Japan.
He added that Japan’s strength is also its commitment to the dissemination of its high-quality technology in collaboration with institutions in Africa, including civil society, a process that has been welcomed in Africa.
China’s large loans with high interest rates of 2% to 3% to developing countries have led to massive debt-traps among recipients. In contrast, for example, Japanese ODA loans are accompanied with lower interest – less than 0.75% – and long-term return policies.
Experts point out that the growing role of private investment in Japanese ODA is the result of the country tightening its aid budget following slower economic growth.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan was the world’s largest donor. Asian countries were the largest recipients of loans and investment from Japanese companies to foster economic growth in the region.
Under Japanese leadership, Asian companies developed new technology that strengthened the manufacturing industry. The region became a cheap manufacturing hub for Japan, a model that also contributed to higher growth and poverty reduction in those countries.
Japan has dropped to fourth position at US$16.3 billion in 2020 internationally.
While Japan is a member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee, or DAC, Professor Kazuhiro Yoshida, director of the centre for international cooperation in education, Hiroshima University, explained that, given the domestic restrictions, Japan will not be a leading player in African development in the future.
“Japan’s strategy in Africa will be to focus on developing its current investments and aid policies. Higher education investment will continue to support the skills of local human resources with a vision to supporting national growth and meeting the industrial demands,” he said.
That strategy also related to Japan’s only needs. As an ageing country, Japan’s national interests will be dependent on skilled foreign labour, pointed out Yoshida.
This article was updated on 12 September.