Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica) in Tokyo. PIcture: Chulumanco Mahamba
The president of a Japanese government agency which assists economic and social growth in developing countries said the key to their relationship with African countries was co-operation and trust.

Shinichi Kitaoka, who heads the Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica), told journalists from across the African continent that the key approach to supporting African countries was reaching consensus and having a relationship built on trust.

“We discuss a lot with countries which require support. We discuss and we understand what their needs are and then we reach consensus on what we can do for these countries. When we take this approach, the trust between us is key,” he said

Jica is tasked with assisting economic and social growth in developing countries, and the promotion of international co-operation. The agency is a large part of organising the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) which will be in Yokohama, Japan, late next month.

Kitaoka said the organisation began to express an interest in supporting African countries after having a past of assisting other countries in Asia through loans and grants. The first Ticad was held in 1993 with the intent to expand assistance in Africa through Official Development Assistance (ODA), which is an arm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan.

Jica has a number of initiatives in African countries, including South Africa in alignment with ODA and their aims. Kitaoka said the agency takes time to make decisions on initiatives started, however once a decision is made the implementation process is fast.

Initiatives implemented in South Africa include the African Business Education (ABE) and since 2014, there were about 1200 young people from African countries who were in a scholarship programme for two years and then offered an internship in Japanese businesses.

Mpai Mokoena, 30, from QwaQwa, Free State, who studies at a private university in Kobe, Japan, is an ABE Initiative student. Mokoena is conducting research on the internet of things (IoT) based on water leak management system for South African cities.

“Through this, the participants will accelerate the economy between both countries via the relationship between people. I think this programme is quite successful,” he said.

Kitaoka added that despite the impression that Africa is developing slower than the rest of the world, he believed that African nations had better growth rate figures than Japan and other developing countries.

“To further catch up, Africa needs to accelerate development in economy, education, health care, and many other sectors and to think for themselves what approaches are best suited for their respective circumstances,” he said.

“We already know what needs to be done, but not what is preventing it from being done. Only African people themselves can identify and overcome the obstacles, and we hope to help them in that process.”

The Ticad 7, which is held every five years, is for African development forums, inclusive and open discussion, realising the principle of respect for African ownership and implementation of commitments. The draft theme for the upcoming Ticad is “Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology, and Innovation”.

“In addition to the ongoing support for investment in human resources, we are considering investing in new sectors, especially those involving innovation. For future, Jica hopes to promote innovative business development by forming partnerships with start-ups,”