JICA—Youth, at the heart of the African development

JICA—Youth, at the heart of the African development

[INTERVIEW]

Mr. Hiroshi Kato
Vice President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

JICA’s Vice President, Mr. Hiroshi Kato gives us his insight on how Japan has been assisting in fostering the training and employment of African youth.


—The Japanese Government launched the ABE initiative at TICAD V in 2013. Could you please elaborate on it?

The idea of ABE initiative is to foster young people, particularly those working or potentially working in the private sector, to become familiar with the Japanese language, history, society, and business sector, and to facilitate them to support Japanese companies in expanding their business in Africa. This program is based on the belief that activities of the Japanese business sector in Africa will benefit both Africa and Japan. With this intention, we decided to invite 1,000 African youth to Japan in four years (2014-2017) to undergo a 2-year master’s program. They will study Japanese technology in agriculture, engineering, mining, natural resources and business management. Their master’s programs are coupled with internship programs, which will give the students an opportunity to have an experience in working at Japanese private firms. Upon completion of their study, they are expected to work as a bridge between the two continents, both at home and in Japan. In 2014 and 2015 together, we received 473 participants and in 2016 another 300 participants are expected to come to Japan. As for the first batch of students who came in the fall of 2014, they have already spent a considerable amount of time in Japan. From them, we have received very encouraging responses, which have motivated us to undertake other activities to further add value to the program. For example, we organized networking fairs for two consecutive years, inviting the ABE students and Japanese private companies interested in doing business in Africa. We already have about 250 registered companies in this ABE initiative program that will have access to the profiles of ABE initiative students and will be able to contact the students directly to exchange ideas on their business. Registered companies can also participate in networking fairs where they can invite the students to their internship programs and establish relationships with the students while they are in Japan.

—Are these students willing to work with Japanese companies in their own country or in Japan?

There are both students who want to work and stay in Japan, and those who would like to work with a Japanese company in Africa. These students could be candidates for upper-management level for Japanese companies with branch offices in Africa. Furthermore, there are students who are running their own businesses in their countries and are willing to collaborate with Japanese companies as business partners.

—What are your main objectives and expectations of TICAD VI?

We would like to showcase our achievements to the African leaders. We have been consistently doing a lot of work in a number of areas, and I think TICAD VI will provide us with an opportunity to review what we have done and discuss what should be done in the next 3 years.

We would like to showcase our achievements to the African leaders. We have been consistently doing a lot of work in a number of areas, and I think TICAD VI will provide us with an opportunity to review what we have done and discuss what should be done in the next 3 years.

The two consistently important pillars of JICA’s activities are infrastructure development and human resource development, and those two pillars were strongly emphasized at TICAD V in 2013. The Yokohama Action Plan (YAP) was adopted, and we have been working consistently to fulfill the commitment we made in that plan of 2013. Those infrastructure projects will contribute not only to the development of individual countries, but also to the development of the sub-regions. This is one of our priorities because of the basic understanding that many countries in Africa are small in terms of population size and some are land-locked, so their development should be considered on the sub-regional level. Another point is that infrastructure development should go hand in hand with industrial development, including agricultural development. We have been working hard on infrastructure development with these in mind, and there are many other projects and programs that we would like to share with the African leaders and discuss what should come next.

—Can you elaborate on your projects related to regional development?

When you think about development in general, you usually look at big cities because they are the engines of growth, but this will not be helpful enough because there will be imbalances between the urban and rural areas. Connecting cities is a good idea, but again, with this approach, the rural areas might be left behind. So, we take the network of cities and the rural areas surrounding those cities together and see the whole area as a corridor or an area of development. This will allow us to pursue infrastructure development, industrial development, agricultural development, and social development in a comprehensive manner.

JICA welcoming its first batch of 156 African participants to Japan under the ABE initiative. / Credits: Shinichi Kuno/JICA.
JICA welcoming its first batch of 156 African participants to Japan under the ABE initiative. / Credits: Shinichi Kuno/JICA.

Another pillar in infrastructure is urban development. Very rapid urbanization has been taking place in Africa. If urbanization is left uncontrolled, there will be chaotic situations in many parts of the continent. We believe that planned, orchestrated, coordinated development is necessary for many big cities in Africa. For that reason, we have been conducting a number of support projects to prepare urban development master plans.

—JICA recently celebrated its 60th anniversary of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) program. How do you view Japan’s international corporation evolvement in the years that you’ve been working for JICA and what is to be expected in the next 60 years?

One idea that Japan’ development assistance has consistently adhered to is that a country’s development must in the long run be driven by the private sector development. Hence the Japanese Government has used its ODA in such way that there will be an increased number of Japanese firms operating in the developing countries, which will benefit not only the Japanese private sector, but also developing partner country’s society. Japan’s ODA has been criticized as driven by commercial motives, but I believe that understanding is generally mistaken. I believe it is not unfair to say that JICA’s ODA contributed significantly to the development of, say, Asian countries. As we all know, what we see in Asia are politically stable and economically developed countries, and I have a general conviction that we have somehow contributed to the process that helped Asian countries get to where they are now. And I am convinced that similar approaches are applicable to today’s Africa.

Now, what we at JICA need to do in the near future? Perhaps among the most important is to encourage the Japanese investors to be more active in engaging with the developing world.

Now, what we at JICA need to do in the near future? Perhaps among the most important is to encourage the Japanese investors to be more active in engaging with the developing world. They will have to look outside of Japan anyway, because the market in Japan is going to shrink inevitably in the future. This needs applies to the private sector in general, but I would like to stress the importance of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).

Olkaria geothermal. / Credits: JICA
Olkaria geothermal. / Credits: JICA

In addition to the business sector, this situation must be similar with other actors in Japan. For example, universities may need to be internationalized, in today’s highly competitive higher education community. The same goes for local governments, which will face decreasing and aging populations. They have a lot of knowledge in managing their city’s local infrastructure, such as water and waste. They can take advantage of their know-how to help other local governments in developing countries and also activate themselves.

We are encouraging local governments of Japan to be more active in foreign countries. Anyway, in my personal view, Japan has no choice but to open itself to the world.

So, what we at JICA have to do is to work as a go-between for the Japanese stakeholders, private sector, universities, and local governments to be more active in the developing world. And this is one of the things that were emphasized in the Development Cooperation Charter adopted in February 2015. Practically, for example, we have started a program to encourage SMEs to look into the foreign market by providing them an opportunity to collect information or to conduct trial projects in developing countries. Likewise, we are supporting universities as well, to engage in research projects with other universities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and this program is expanding. We are encouraging local governments of Japan to be more active in foreign countries. Anyway, in my personal view, Japan has no choice but to open itself to the world.


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