Tokyo International Conference on African Development, "TICAD 6" just ended in Nairobi, Kenya and in attendance were several African Presidents and Prime Ministers including our own Muhammadu Buhari and the co-convener of the conference, Shinzo Abe, the head of the Japanese government.
The TICAD seeks a win-win partnership between Japan and Africa. A key objective of the conference is to build up African ownership of its own vision of growth and development.
In furtherance of this, Japan seeks to differ with the other players on the continent by placing emphasis on high quality infrastructure that do more than job creation by transferring technology through the training of youth and women.
The conference held every five years from the time it started in 1993 until the last one in 2003 when it was decided that it should be convened every three years instead. The one that just finished is significant in the sense that this was the first time it took place in Africa. They met in Japan all the time in the past.
Another significant departure is the recognition of the role of the private sector in the economic take-off of the continent. In this respect, more than 100 Chief Executive Officers, CEOs from leading Japanese companies accompanied Prime Minister Abe. This is a clear indication that more and more Japanese companies are eying the African continent. A modest number of Nigerian business and state-owned enterprises were equally present.
From its start, Prime Minister Abe made known the intention of Japan to spend 10 Billion Dollars in the next twelve months and overall USD 30 Billion over a three-year period on areas key to African economies, targeting infrastructural projects such as roads, energy, ports, hospitals and training institutions. The money will partly be disbursed through the African Development Bank, ADB.
At the end of the conference, a statement tagged "Nairobi Declaration" was issued. Among its highlights is the launching of "Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security for Africa, IFNA." This aims to bring African governments together to swiftly implement food and nutrition security policies and programs. There were important resolutions taken on economic diversification and industrialization; promotion of "resilient health system for quality of life" and measures for the promotion social stability and shared prosperity.
For Nigeria in particular, "TICAD 6" milestones include the important meeting between President Buhari and Prime Minister Abe, at which event problems militating against the inflow of Japanese investment into Nigeria were discussed and agreed upon.
Japanese companies had done a lot by way of investment in the past in Nigeria but there has noticeably been a drop in the last decade or two. Chiefly to blame is the problem of security, disguised in official discussions as "business environment."
President Buhari used this meeting effectively in giving assurances that the problem is being addressed. Boko Haram terrorism is nearly gone and sabotage in the Niger Delta will soon be ended preferably through dialogue and if not, by force of arms.
Coming into close personal contact for the second time, the two leaders discussed the issues of trade and investment, health, peace and development of the continent. In addition, they discussed issues in diplomacy and international relations.
President Buhari's statement at the Head of States' round table meeting with business leaders underscored the serious efforts government is making to improve Nigeria's notoriously bad business environment.
At this meeting, he announced the coming into place of a soon-to-be inaugurated "Presidential Enabling Business Council, PEBEC."
He described it as an inter-ministerial council to oversee the efforts of government to remove various bottlenecks that stifle business and economic activity to give way to the right enabling environment and investment climate in Nigeria. It will be powered by the government but will be private-sector driven.
According to its vision, the PEBEC will make Nigeria one of the most attractive business destinations in the world. It will start with the modest effort of moving the country up 20 points in the World Bank ranking in the ease of doing business in the first year, taking it into the top 100 at the end of the four-year mandate of the current administration.
A third takeaway is on the sidelines of the TICAD where the Nigerian government delegation met a good number of big Japanese enterprises. Collectively and individually, these businesses expressed their intention of either coming in newly or expanding their participation in Nigeria's private sector. The companies with varied interests in power, agriculture, automobile, motor cycles, textiles, financing and the service sector included the Honda Manufacturing (Nigeria) Limited, representing Honda Motor Co. Ltd; Japan Tobacco Inc., Marubeni Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation.
Others included Toyota Tsusho Corporation, Toyota Tsusho (Nigeria) Ltd., an affiliate of Toyota Tsusho Corporation, West African Seasoning Co. Ltd., affiliate of Ajinomoto Co. Inc., and Japan External Trade Organization, JETRO.
At these meetings, they explored the scope for the incentive packages the Nigerian government will give them so as to deepen and expand their investments. These included export rebates, access to Foreign Exchange, land, interest rates, transparency in business regulation and favourable regulatory structure.
The fourth important takeaway is the formation of a new group KENSA made up of industry leaders on the continent, Kenya representing East Africa, Egypt for North Africa, South Africa for the South and Nigeria, from West Africa.
The four countries agreed to consolidate their quadrilateral grouping initiated at the 19th July UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) meeting and decided to expand business and trade between the four of them, inject impetus into the CFTA, the African Union-inspired free trade agreement among African countries and to coordinate their positions on trade and investment inside and outside Africa.
Fifth, Nigeria and Kenya seized the opportunity of the meeting of their leaders to not only strengthen bilateral relations but to follow up on the achievements of the State Visit to Nairobi by President Buhari earlier this year.
From the time of the visit, both countries have seen a growing impetus for trade and investment between them. Kenya which discovered oil lately is picking lessons from Nigeria's vast experience in oil and gas. Nigeria is learning from Kenyan experience in managing animal grazing. There are efforts on both sides to share experience and promote private sector participation in trade, cooperatives, micro finance, cotton farming and palm oil processing.
Sixth, under the auspices of the Bank of Industry and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council NIPC, several memoranda of understanding, MOUs were signed between Nigerian parties and their foreign counterparts. From many of these, investments and jobs will follow.
On the President's delegation were the Ministers of Agriculture, Health, Budget and National Planning, and Industry, Trade and Investment.
There were also the National Security Adviser, NSA and the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, NIA.
Members of the delegation expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the conference and the side engagements.
-By Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity)