Africa-Asia Confidential, June 2009

Japan International Cooperation Agency

For Japan, development aid is equal parts strategy and altruism. Aid wins influence that its constitutionally-limited military cannot. Friendly relations with mineral- and petro-exporters ensure a steady supply of energy and raw materials to resource-hungry Japan.

Aid to Africa has become something of a competition between the two economic giants of Asia, China and Japan. Unlike Beijing, Tokyo cannot draw from a seemingly bottomless purse; Japan's strengths are its superior achievements in technology, agriculture and health. The new and streamlined Japan International Cooperation Agency is determined to bring these strengths to Africa.

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Japanese aid: Diplomacy and development

JICA reorganisation: Mergers and efficiency

JICA loans: New yen from the new JICA

Agriculture: Sowing the seeds of security

Agriculture technical cooperation: Mwea Irrigation Scheme

Asian growth models: Exporting development

The trials of trade and aid

Francophone Africa: Aid without borders

Education: Teaching the teachers

Japan and the other donors: Delivering difference

JICA Research Institute: The search for answers

The numbers behind Japanese aid

JICA offices in Africa


Diplomacy and development

From a recipient of aid in the 1950s to the highest spot on the donor lists in the 1990s, Japanese ODA shows the will to share lessons with the world.

Japan has a long history of providing development assistance to developing countries, and this is borne out of the fact that Japan itself was a recipient country during its reconstruction after the Second World War. Japan first became an aid donor in 1954 when the country joined the Asian intergovernmental body known as the Colombo Plan and has provided over US$221 billion (approximately 31.7 trillion yen) of overseas development assistance (ODA) to 185 countries. In 1989, Japan became the world's largest donor for the first time and remained in the top spot between 1991 and 2001.

Japan's ODA consists of grant aid, technical cooperation and yen loans. Prior to 1 October 2008, these were overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). In October 2008, the whole aid system was reformed with JICA now handling yen loans and much of the grant aid, making JICA the world's largest single bilateral donor agency with a budget of approximately $10 bn.

A past to remember

The historical background of Japan's financial assistance began as providing war reparations and economic cooperation to countries in East Asia, along with the basic policy of providing cooperation for countries that had close economic links to Japan. Tokyo focused on countries in East Asia and those that had close economic links because the government felt it had a debt to pay for Japan's actions in the 1930s and 1940s, and Japan was still classified as a developing country, which inclined it to view aid as a tool to develop the economy and Japanese companies.

The launch of government-based financial cooperation began in October 1954 and the signing of the Japan-Burma Peace Treaty and Agreement on Reparations and Economic Cooperation. After that, a succession of reparations treaties was signed with the Philippines, Indonesia and the Republic of Vietnam.

The next major step in Japan's development as a full-fledged donor came in 1958 when the first yen loan was extended to India. This yen loan was conducted independently of the issue of atoning for the war and had groundbreaking significance because it was the start of financial cooperation with concessional conditions.

From the late 1960s to the 1970s Japan gained a better reputation in the global arena as the country achieved dramatic economic development. Japan's aid was increasing and its aid implementation systems were becoming more varied. Aid levels shot up rapidly; Japan's ODA increased from $115.8 million in 1964 to $1.1 bn. in 1976.

The impact of national economic growth averages of 10% per year for several decades began to show in the 1970s. From then on, Tokyo was in a better position to promote economic cooperation with developing countries. In 1978, the government announced a plan to double its ODA over the next three years. Once this had been achieved, Japan's ODA continued to grow dramatically throughout the 1980s to such an extent that Japan became the third largest donor among Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development-Development Assistance Committee members in 1983 and the second largest in 1986. Mirroring its economic growth, Japan became the largest donor and remained so during the 1990s; however, the bursting of the economic bubble in the mid-1990s and the recession which followed meant that aid programmes were an easy target for cash-strapped budget planners.

An ODA charter

Japan distributes its aid according to the stipulations laid out in the ODA Charter. The first Charter was adopted in 1992 so as to garner broader support at home and abroad, and to implement ODA more systematically. The charter was revised ten years later to incorporate changes like gradually shifting the focus away from Asia and focusing on quality rather than quantity, as economic growth prospects dwindled by 2002.

In response to new development challenges, the Millennium Development Goals were adopted by the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in September 2000. The MDGs reflect a consensus among donor countries of what should be achieved through development assistance. This meant that countries should alter how they distributed aid to better meet multilateral-led social and economic development goals.

In addition, there was frustration amongst the Japanese public that, despite domestic economic stagnation, taxpayers' money was being spent abroad rather than at home. Therefore, a revised charter was made public in July 2003. This charter laid out the four priority issues of Japanese aid: poverty reduction, sustainable growth, resolving global issues and peace-building. Japanese aid would then be administered under five basic principles:

  • Supporting self-help efforts of developing countries.
  • Focusing on 'human security'.
  • Assurance of fairness.
  • Utilisation of Japan's experience and expertise.
  • Partnership and collaboration with the international community.

The merger and a new JICA

There are many differences between all the world's government aid agencies. What sets JICA apart is that it is an implementing agency. Recently, there has been a trend within the development community to provide ODA as budget support rather than on the basis of projects. JICA remains a projects-based body with aid requests handled in coordination with the International Monetary Fund-backed Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and national strategies.

On 1 October 2008, JICA merged with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to become the largest bilateral aid donor in the world, with an annual budget of approximately $10 bn. per year.

'New JICA' is setting its sights on using its streamlining to increase the impact of development assistance. Operational 'rolling plans' are being prepared for individual countries to harmonise JICA's assistance with the country's development policies, which should enable better long-term coordination as rolling plans will be used in policy dialogues with developing countries. Since JICA now implements technical cooperation, ODA loans and grant aid operations in an integrated fashion, it should be better able to integrate these aid schemes to offer assistance that effectively addresses the needs of developing countries.

In addition, as part of the merger, JICA and Japan made a commitment to increasing their activities in development research with the launch of the JICA Research Institute. The Research Institute conducts studies which build on the operational experiences of the former JICA and JBIC, as well as other development organisations worldwide. Japan has a unique position since it was once a recipient country; therefore, the research institute will also use Japan's own growth experiences and the growth experiences of its East Asian neighbours to identify lessons that could be applicable to other regions.


Africa and TICAD

Traditionally, Japan's ODA has focused on East Asia due to the close links with the countries in that region, but over recent years there has been a shift to providing more assistance to African countries. Although there are few historical ties with the continent, Japanese donor agencies argue that that there will be little global stability or prosperity until the problems of Africa are resolved. In this vein, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) was launched in 1993. The objectives of TICAD are to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and their partners, and to mobilise support for African-owned development initiatives.

There have been four TICAD conferences (in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008), through which Japan has tried to promote its ideas of global partnership and African ownership. Japan and its African partners believe that the priorities for economic and social development should be determined by African countries themselves, and that development should be pursued under a common framework for cooperation among all development actors.

In the last four years there has been a visible realignment in aid-receiving priority regions. Up until 2005, well over 50% of Japanese ODA was distributed to East Asia; however, the latest figures for 2007 show that the proportion of ODA going to Asia has dropped to 42% while ODA to Africa has risen to above 30%. As economic growth in the Asian tiger economies continues, this trend seems set to continue.

The most recent TICAD meeting was held from 28-30 May 2008 in Yokohama, Japan. The meeting focused on boosting economic growth; ensuring human security and consolidating peace and democratisation; and addressing environmental and climate change issues. TICAD IV also further demonstrated Japan's commitment to Africa when the then-Premier, Yasuo Fukuda, pledged 'that by 2012... Japan will have doubled its official development assistance to Africa, increasing it gradually over these years.' At the same time, the Prime Minister promised to double grant aid and technical cooperation by 2012.


JICA reorganisation: Mergers and efficiency

Japan's aid bodies have been streamlined in order to get the most out of the world's single largest donor agency

The October 2008 revamping of Japan's aid infrastructure had the goal of improving overall efficiency for one of the few major donors to exceed its 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit promise to double aid to Africa. The reorganisation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) was mandated by a 2006 law outlining administrative reforms aimed at a more streamlined bureaucracy in which overseas economic cooperation operations and grant aid was subsumed by JICA while international financial operations were transferred to the new Japan Finance Corporation (JFC).

The merger saw all JBIC offices in Africa closed, handing over responsibility to London and Tokyo offices. Senior officials were already considering the changes as they orchestrated an earlier reshuffling in 2003, and the preparations for the New JICA took a full three years in the making, during which JICA operations were expanded and accelerated.

Traditionally known for avoiding attention and extreme caution in its aid delivery, JICA field offices faced pressure from JICA President Sadako Ogata to take a bolder stance as it prepared to take on larger responsibilities. JICA also reopened its offices in Sudan, created a new field office in Congo-Kinshasa and recommenced assistance to Liberia.

New JICA preparations got a second boost from Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) IV pledges, including 500 billion yen (US$ 5.2 bn.) earmarked for loans to projects reducing climate change, manifested in projects such as Phase Two of an Ethiopian project to protect the Belete-Gera Regional Forest Priority Area, as well as Africa-specific promises of $2.5 bn. through the Facility for African Investment and $4 bn. for infrastructure loans aimed at facilitating the realisation of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's promise that Japanese investment in Africa would double in addition to its overseas development assistance (ODA).

Although the past decade had seen repeated ODA cuts, the government still considers aid its most effective means of making international contributions, central to Japan's perception of its role overseas as well as its maintenance of any form of soft power. The funds promised during TICAD IV seem unaffected by the global economic slump and may in fact be starting to rebound despite the catastrophic economic downturn in Japan. Funds promised to African development projects have already started materialising.

These preparations also saw Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers top 30,000, a record high, and new programmes to increase the number of senior expert volunteers were launched. These efforts combined to make JICA the world's largest bilateral aid agency by the time the merger took place.

Three-quarters of a year down the line, the effects of the merger are just emerging. With the conclusion of the fiscal year, the first post-merger projects are now starting to be evaluated while the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year saw the announcement of several new major projects in Africa.

A soft sell

Some expect lending conditions to become softer now that JICA is in charge of yen loans, and Director of JICA's Nairobi office Yoshiyuki Takahashi admits that the first time he signed a notice warning loan defaulters, it was a strange experience for someone accustomed to only making 'requests' for projects. JBIC loan evaluations prioritised repayment, whereas the loans under JICA will primarily look at impact of the project in the target community.

Nevertheless, pre-merger lending terms have remained consistent for 2009, and one of former JBIC staffer Shigeo Nakagawa's main duties is to train his colleagues to adopt more of a banker's mindset. Working in difficult African economies, the New JICA is forming its own strategies to increase the likelihood of loan repayment. The Cameroonian project is representative of one of these strategies in which yen loan projects will be supported with technical assistance, JICA's traditional area of expertise. In the past, JBIC often advised yen loan recipients to hire consultants as a means of preventing negative ramifications, such as environmental impact, as well as increasing the likelihood of success of the project. Despite this advice, most recipients failed to do so. The merger enables JICA to provide its own technical experts as consultants to all of its loan projects.

From conception to the beginning of construction, average yen loan projects currently take two years. Senior JICA officials predicted the merger would speed up the planning process since collaboration between JBIC, JICA and MOFA has now all been brought under one roof. Nakagawa, however, cautioned against expecting time frames to shorten much, citing remaining delays caused by individuals within the ODA-involved ministries, thirteen in total, who try to influence JICA activities.

All projects involving infrastructure, which was formerly handled by JBIC, are now under JICA's jurisdiction and are receiving considerable attention, especially in the sub-sector of renewable energy. Post-merger JICA has identified five priority areas with a substantial majority of funding going towards infrastructure, with the environment coming in a distant second. Agriculture, health and education make up the remaining focus areas. At the time of the merger, ongoing JBIC projects, including the Sangoro extension of the Sondu Miriu Project in Kenya, were transferred over to JICA's care in a relatively smooth process, says Nakagawa, remembering a more protracted merger of the Japan Export-Import Bank in 1999.

In preparing to take up infrastructure sector projects, JICA conducted a pilot program to assess its capacity to fund road and traffic improvements. The Nairobi Urban Transport Study widened and improved the safety of one roundabout in the city. The improvements, however, could not keep pace with exponentially increasing car ownership in Nairobi, so instead of yielding a better traffic situation, the programme simply prevented further deterioration. JICA was not satisfied and is now teaming up with the African Development Bank to make larger- scale road improvements including the expansion of one of Nairobi's main arteries and filling in missing links of the illusory ring road. Roads are one of several areas within the infrastructure sector in which the Chinese are posing increasing competition, although several Chinese contractors have agreed to slow construction to elongate perceived benefits to certain politicians' constituencies.

Some of the bolder steps taken by the New JICA are deliberately limited to Asia. For the first time in its history, JICA has dispatched development experts to a conflict zone before the warring parties have signed a peace agreement and has committed Japanese civilians to a monitoring team responsible for overseeing a ceasefire in the Philippines. JICA staff said they were more comfortable initiating this kind of project in Asia and did not expect similar activities in Africa.
However, staff of the International Peace Support and Training Centre in Nairobi said that the Japanese government recently expressed interest in joining a number of western donors led by the United Kingdom in supporting capacity building peacekeeping activities under the East African Standing Brigade Coordination Mechanism. Such a project would not be funded through JICA, but likely through MOFA, which retains responsibility for multilateral aid.

Three areas to watch under the New JICA are commodity loans aimed at improving balance-of-payment problems, especially for African countries short of foreign currency to purchase needed goods, and grant aid for countries cooperating with counter-terrorism and security enhancement measures. These first two have both seen recent increases in allotments. The third area entails private-sector financing and investment in which funds are provided to Japanese and recipient-country companies for development-targeted investment under which Konoike Construction Corporation, Katahira and Engineers, and other major Japanese companies stand to benefit.

Takahashi says that while it will take another two years before we see the real benefits of the merger, some early winners can be identified. Although Japan provides assistance to 52 African countries and tries to limit the gap between the levels of funding given to each, Sierra Leone and Liberia can expect the aid they receive to double or triple over the next few years. Rural areas around the continent will also see more infrastructure spending and more aid in general under directions from Ogata to concentrate on improving the lives of people in the least developed areas, as part of her 'human security' agenda. At the same time, Ogata is putting pressure on JICA field offices to shorten project durations and produce tangible results faster, which some JICA staff say proves difficult in rural community settings.

Looking forward, the New JICA will expand its Third-Country Training Programmes to additional countries. The program works by finding a highly successful programme in one recipient country, and then training and providing support for that country to then teach others how to adopt and integrate the programme themselves. The programmes started when some African JICA training participants said that there was too much of a gap between what they learned in a post-industrialised Japan and the realities they faced back home. African trainees reported an improvement in the applicability of training and third-country training took off.

The second wave of third-country training has been between African countries, with Kenya serving as a major project pioneer. Programmes that have been judged to be successful in Kenya have begun to be exported by Kenyans around the continent with Japanese support. The Regional Training Course on Enhancing Adoption of Social Forestry, which now has 18 participating countries, is one such project. The Kenya Forestry Research Institute serves as the intermediary trainer. Using the same model are the Training Programme for Sudan led by the Kenya Medical Training Centre and the School-based Parasite Control Programme led by the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Historically the largest aid recipient country in Africa, Kenya has just been promised an increase of 30% in technical cooperation, a 40% increase in grant aid and has already seen a number of new projects since the merger. A water supply program in Kapsabet, a community-based flood disaster management program aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change in the Nyando River basin, and a national HIV/AIDS testing kit provision programme all fall under the former category. Two management schemes concerning water and health fit into the latter, and finally JICA's Kenya office also donated vehicles and equipment for border and customs patrols in an effort to strengthen the long-term One Stop Border Post programme, an example of efforts to make it easier for foreign companies, including their own, to invest in Africa.

Back in Tokyo, approximately 300 former JBIC staff members have joined the New JICA, whereas most of the remaining staff, numbered at around 500, have chosen to stay with the 'New JBIC', remade as the JFC. JBIC staff say this was foreseeable, as the former JBIC was divided into two sections, development assistance and export credit/investment finance. Nakagawa reports that most of his former JBIC colleagues who, like him, decided to cross over to JICA are content with the merger, which they say was well planned for and necessary.


JICA loans: New yen from the new JICA

Three major yen loans were announced for Africa in 2009. However, construction usually starts two years after a new announcement, according to Shigeo Nakagawa, the one former Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) employee to transfer to a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) office in sub-Saharan Africa.

Tanzania will receive just under 2 billion yen (US$20.9 million) for the Sixth Poverty Reduction Support Credit programme, which is the first of its kind to focus on policy and institutional reform instead of infrastructure. Cameroon will borrow just under 4.54 bn. yen for the Transport Facilitation Program for the Bamenda-Mamfe-Ekok/Mfum-Abakaliki-Enugu Corridor, connecting Cameroon and Nigeria. The loan will also provide feeder roads, schools, health centres, water stations and markets along the corridor to prevent any negative social effects commonly seen along other major highways. The border crossing point will also be streamlined. Zambia will get loans up to just over 5.5 bn. yen for its Increased Access to Electricity Services Project, which will extend grid networks and build a small hydroelectric power plant.

All three loans break long absences. Cameroon has not received a yen loan for 22 years; Zambia, 17. Following large rounds of debt forgiveness, JICA carefully evaluated which African countries would be eligible. Few countries in sub-Saharan Africa had met the criteria in the past, namely South Africa, Senegal, Kenya, Botswana, and more recently Mozambique. Nakagawa says that factors such as corruption can be as influential in these evaluations as economic growth indicators. Kenya, coming in third last week in Transparency International's list of most corrupt countries, seems to have narrowly avoided disqualification.

One of the lauded improvements of the New JICA is that its long history of 'field' presence will allow it to detect and stifle attempts to redirect aid funds better than JBIC had previously. Before the merger, JBIC had one office in Nairobi covering all of sub-Saharan Africa and offices in Morocco and Egypt representing North Africa. However, Yoshiyuki Takahashi, Director of the JICA Nairobi office, doubts there will be much change in corruption levels. Although there is strong pressure coming from Western donor governments to eradicate corruption in the aid process, JICA insists that the recipient government is the key driver in the process, and therefore it is their responsibility, not Japan's, to address fund diversions.

All three new loans are untied and are to be paid back within 40 years with a ten-year grace period, but the interest rates vary. Tanzania and Zambia will pay the minimal interest rate, 0.01%, while Cameroon will pay 0.65%, the top bracket for least developed countries. The merger has not affected lending rates, which have stayed constant since July last year. The year 2008 also saw the continuation of an effort to improve lending flexibility in terms of trading a higher rate for a longer payback period and vice versa. Projects meeting the Cool Earth Loan requirements are also now given more preferential terms. The first wave of post-merger loans are all jointly funded by the African Development Bank or the World Bank and other donors.


Agriculture: Sowing the seeds of security

Doubling rice production in the next ten years is the major goal of Japanese food security projects in Africa.

Few people know more - or are as evangelical - about rice than the Japanese. It is this Asian expertise that the Japan International Cooperation Agency is trying to share in a bold initiative to double rice production in Africa by 2018 from 14 million to 28 mn. tn. Launched at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development IV in May 2008, the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) is a collaboration led by JICA and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), working to support national strategies aimed at boosting rice production.

As a younger generation of Africans appreciate that rice is a quick, easy-to-cook and nutritious substitute for cassava and maize, consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is growing at 5.8% a year - faster than any other staple food. Though African rice production has nearly tripled in the last 50 years to 14.6 mn. tn., it is still not keeping pace with demand. Whereas in Africa farmers have expanded the acres of land used to grow rice, in Asia they have focused on getting a higher yield, and production has leapt from 200 mn. tn. to 570 mn. tn. over the same period.

CARD is not a donor agency and has no role in managing money earmarked for fertiliser or seed dissemination. 'We think it will be more appropriate to ask the donors to allocate money for rice development and do their own business in their style,' says Hiroshi Hiraoka, a rice expert employed by JICA to help coordinate CARD in AGRA's office in Nairobi. CARD's role is to act as a liaison, advising the 12 countries involved in the first phase of the initiative on how to design national rice development strategies.

The first twelve countries - Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda - all submitted their plans in time for CARD's second general meeting in Tokyo in early June. Now the coalition will match these countries with donor agencies to help fund agricultural programmes. Then they will begin advising a second group - Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo-Kinshasa, Gambia, Liberia, Rwanda and Togo. The first group has come up with proposals on improving irrigation, developing the value chain that supports post-harvest activities like milling and marketing, and increasing fertiliser inputs. JICA's focus is on smallholder farming, which the Japanese see as key to improving quantity and quality. This can be at odds with the grand designs of agriculture ministers, who favour large-scale rice plantations. Japanese experts say that while large-scale production has worked in the UnitedStates and Australia, where governments give substantial subsidies to rice farmers, it has largely failed in developing countries, such as the Philippines.

Outside the CARD initiative, Japan is supporting the dissemination of the New Rice for Africa (Nerica). The rice variety, which can be grown as both an upland and lowland crop, is hardy, high-yielding and requires less water than traditional African varieties.

Based at the National Agricultural Research Organisation in Uganda, JICA expert Tsuboi Tatsushi is helping researchers - some of whom have trained in Japan through JICA's technical support programme - to market and promote Nerica. 'After training, I give one kilogramme each to the farmers and the farmer will plant that 1 kg of seed over 200m2 and easily harvest 50 kg,' he explains. Farmers are asked to give 2 kg of the 50 kg to other farmers free of charge and sell or eat the other 48 kg. The team are also training refugees from Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa, giving them 1 kg of seed to grow when they return home.

Nerica has already proved very popular among Ugandan farmers, with the area cultivated for upland rice increasing from 1,500 hectares in 2002 to 40,000 ha in 2008. Farmers earn more from planting rice, which is sold at 1,200 Ugandan shillings (US$0.57) per kg, while maize is sold at USh500-600 per kg.

With the help of Japanese non-governmental organisation Sasakawa-Global 2000, JICA is also helping to bring more innovation to Ugandan rice fields. Many farmers face long journeys by bicycle to take rice to mills in town centres. With money from JICA, Candia Alphonse, a researcher at the Agricultural Engineering and Appropriate Technology Research Institute (AEATRI), has built a truck with a mill on top that can travel around the fields at harvest time. JICA is now helping to build a second truck, as well as scouting for investors to produce more.

Providing aid is a process of trial and error. Tsuboi admits programmes in which JICA gives machinery to a group of farmers often fail because 'everybody is having and nobody is responsible for maintenance'. It is better to persuade farmers to buy their own machinery and to train them how to use it, he says. So JICA is kitting out a new training centre at AEATRI to teach farmers the necessary skills. As part of an initiative to share Asian technological expertise, JICA has been working with a private company in Kampala, Tonnet Agro Engineering, which builds and designs agricultural machinery.

The Japanese donors realise that rice cannot solve all of Africa's food security problems. 'We are not the diplomats for rice, we don't work on behalf of rice,' says CARD's Hiraoka, adding that it must be grown alongside other crops.


Agriculture technical cooperation: Mwea Irrigation Scheme

Paddy fields stretch as far as the eye can see. Mau Mau prisoners were the first settlers at the Mwea Irrigiation Scheme, 100 kilometres south-east of Nairobi, sent by British colonialists to the Nyamindi and Thiba Rivers. Taken over by Kenya's National Irrigation Board in the 1960s, the Scheme deteriorated due to mismanagement, and in 1988 the government invited the Japanese to help rehabilitate it.

For 15 years, Japanese technical cooperation built and backed the Mwea Irrigation Agricultural Development Centre. The Centre tests new rice strands and technology, and sends Kenyans irrigation experts to Japan to train in water and waste management. Now extending over 18,000 acres of upland and lowland paddy rice, Mwea produces 80% of the rice grown in Kenya.

The scheme has its challenges. While farmers struggle to pay 2,000 Kenyan shillings (US$26) a year to draw water for each acre, farmers on adjacent land are siphoning off water from its canals, and growing rice and vegetables free of charge. The rains were poor in 2008 and people living downstream complain to local authorities that too much of their water is taken from the rivers. Even Simon Kamundia, Mwea's scheme manager, questions its sustainability.

Direct Japanese support for the scheme ended in 2003, but the Japan International Cooperation Agency is now helping with a study for a dam to extend water intake, expanding the scheme to another 4,000 hectares for paddy rice and 1,500 ha of upland rice. The farmers are keen for work to start. 'We are waiting for the dam,' said one in a village within the scheme. 'This water is very, very low.'


Asian growth models: Exporting development

Governments ask if Japanese models of aid and economic cooperation used in East Asia can now be applied to Africa.

When, in a recent speech to a conference about the future of Asia, Prime Minister Taro Aso outlined Japan's vision for an 'Asian growth initiative,' his statements marked a rather significant departure from Japan's prior position on growth in the region. Given that Japan has been a long-time champion of Asian development lessons for Africa, the significance of his remarks may yet echo beyond Asia to Africa.

Japan emerged as a major aid donor to Africa in the mid-1990s, following a very conscious realignment by Japan of its official development assistance (ODA) programme with new foreign policy objectives. These included the desire to raise Japan's international stature in spheres where the country has conventionally had less weight; the related ambition to distinguish itself as a diplomatic power; and the more concealed aim of securing access to new but stable sources of energy and raw materials to meet the country's growth demands.

The launch of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 1993, and the hosting of follow-up conferences every five years thereafter, represented a marked reframing of Japan's Africa policy and signalled a wider repositioning by the Asian country. High-level in nature and drawing together African leaders and a number of multilateral donor and development entities, TICAD has given Japan some diplomatic prominence (albeit in a small pool). Most importantly, TICAD has offered Japan a platform to advocate values around development which have diverged significantly from Western donor discourse and which draw on its idiosyncratic twentieth-century modernising experiences.

Two core pillars of TICAD, for instance, have been the promotion of an ethic of self-help and ownership in Africa's development initiatives, and the attempt to foster stronger bonds of South-South cooperation among African and Asian countries. These two aspects are intended to reinforce each other. They stem from a deep-rooted belief among Japanese aid policy-makers about the factors that underpinned Japan's own economic successes, which are pared down to a strong philosophy of economic sovereignty and self-reliance, export-driven growth and a regional orientation to Japan's economic planning which saw its economic cooperation in East Asia play a catalytic role in the wider region's development. Known as the 'flying geese' phenomenon, the latter idea was popular for a long time among Japan's bureaucratic and political elites.

In the faith that a similar effect could be achieved in Africa, Japan has therefore supported a number of Asia-Africa business outreach forums over the years and has started to direct its ODA to buttress private-sector development on the continent. Underpinning this has been an idea of an East Asian model of development which has infused not only Japan's multilateral involvement in Africa, but also bilateral relations.

A contested idea

But the notion of an East Asian development model - long criticised by Western observers as ahistorical and misguided in its emphases on fostering regional economic contingencies, and shirked by many of Japan's neighbours - has in recent years had to weather two financial crises (one regional and one global), as well as Japan's own continuing economic woes. This may explain the turnabout in Premier Aso's vision for Asia when he announced in April a growth initiative aimed at doubling the size of Asia's economy by 2020, achieved by 'transitioning Asia's economy to an economy led by domestic demand rather than one driven by exports, as it has been until now, through encouraging region-wide development and expanded consumption.'

This emphasis on domestic demand stimulation resonates with the policy responses to the current economic crisis in the major economies in the West and in China, and echoes Japan's own favouring of fiscal stimuli, but it is a far cry from the export-led and expressly outward orientation to growth preached for many years by Japan to its regional neighbours.

It is also quite different in substance from an earlier regional initiative launched by Japan in 2002, the Initiative for Development in East Asia (IDEA). Coming as part of the extended diplomatic response in the region to institutionalise effective measures against the recurrence of the 1997 currency crises, IDEA was promoted by the Japanese government to enhance structural reform and cooperation in the region. Notably, IDEA sought to build on the stated successes of East Asia's development experiences, among which were singled out the efficient use of ODA and economic cooperation in the creation of favourable macroeconomic environments, market access and investment.

The Japanese government launched IDEA with much fanfare, announcing at the time that the initiative was drawn up in the spirit of 'walk together, advance together.' While primarily a regional project, IDEA aimed to extend lessons from the East Asian experiences to other developing countries. Most notably, Japan promoted IDEA at multilateral forums such as the 2002 G8 Kananaskis Summit in Canada and the World Summit on Sustainable Development which was hosted by South Africa in 2002. According to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that externalisation of IDEA was intended as a 'joint intellectual input based on East Asia's development expertiseto the international discussion on development.'

But IDEA suffered setbacks after early rounds of publicity in meetings of the Association of South-east Asian Nations that included China, Japan and South Korea (known as ASEAN-Plus-Three). The initiative suffered a sceptical reception from Japan's neighbours, still recalling uncomfortable wartime memories and eager to demonstrate their own economic autonomy and - in the case of the larger industrialised countries - prowess.

While Japan still seeks to foster discussions about common economic destinies in Asia, therefore, it now does this in more muted fashion. Awareness that the rise of China encroaches upon its regional influence, for example, spurred Japan to pursue more actively economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with Asian countries over the past number of years. The conclusion of the Japan-ASEAN free trade area in early 2008 was the most extensive in a growing line of Japan-Asia EPAs. The free trade agreement with ASEAN was noteworthy for its inclusive and collaborative tenor, recognising the countries of South-east Asia as partners, rather than as recipients of Japanese aid, a tone often adopted by Japan.

In the 1990s the Japanese government attempted for the first time to promote the idea of an Asian development model internationally. Its efforts lay behind the eminent 1993 World Bank publication, 'The East Asian Miracle', which found that Japan, the four 'Tiger Economies' and the three Newly Industrialising Economies benefited from 'the application of a set of common, market-friendly economic policies, leading to both higher accumulation and better allocation of resources.' The report drew both positive and negative international attention, for the latter mainly due to its apparent advocacy of extensive government involvement in economic development. Much of what was advanced in the report, moreover, was dispelled in a period when neoliberal thinking started to infuse multilateral financial institutions.

Yet the notion that Japan played a special part in the growth witnessed in many Asian countries since the 1970s lingers in aid circles. ODA White Papers for instance frequently note that Japan's particular programme of development assistance (or economic cooperation) in East Asia, based on an expansive provision of ODA, private flows such as export credits and investments by the Japanese state and private companies, played an instrumental role in the development of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Maligned elsewhere, the theory of East Asia's flying geese pattern of development has shaped thinking among Japan's political establishment for a significant period of time.

Some of that thinking has reflected in Japanese aid involvement in Africa. The first TICAD conference acknowledged the relevance of Asian development experiences and approaches to Africa's struggle to achieve sustainable economic growth, and sought as a goal 'the application of successful development experiences in Asia to development activities in Africa.' This notion has been retained through multilateral meetings that have flowed from the TICAD process. Between 1994 and 2007, for example, six Asia-Africa Business Forums were held to explore economic links, centring on lessons African countries could draw from Asia's development experience and how technical and other know-how could be transferred to Africa.

Until a few years ago there was a more conscious effort to simulate, through the use of Japanese assistance, a pattern of development reminiscent of East Asia's so-called flying geese phenomenon in southern Africa, a region encompassing South Africa and thirteen other members of the region's Southern African Development Community. The Japan International Cooperation Agency, for example, discussed in a policy document the possibility of providing economic cooperation (comprising aid, but also investments) to South Africa, which by virtue of its industrial strength and linkages with its neighbours could help stimulate region-wide development.

Most crucially, from the perspective of many African countries, Japan seems to have lost the edge to China in terms of economic involvement and its role in shaping development discourse on the continent. The robustness with which the latter has engaged in many economies in Africa has led it to overshadow Japan in many respects: Chinese trade with Africa outweighs Japan-Africa trade by a factor of almost 6; Chinese investment in the continent is far above that of Japan, and in spite of media-hyped announcements of ODA increases by Japan, its aid to Africa has not matched that of China.

Thanks in large part to its willingness to divulge more resources, a more visible (if less elegant) public relations machinery, and its philosophy of comradeship above foreign policy ethics, China, not Japan appears to be viewed as a model for development by African countries. Again, the durability of this will depend on how successfully China can withstand the ravages of the current crisis and how long it chooses to direct financing to Africa.

In the meanwhile there are some signs from the Japanese side that an African aid policy which has been lacklustre and staid for a number of years is being revamped. Last year's TICAD meeting not only promised a major increase in Japan's ODA to Africa, but it also had a more focused and hands-on tone than the three meetings that preceded it.

The 2008 Yokohama Plan of Action which came out of last year's TICAD listed specific development targets and also called for the establishment of follow-up mechanisms to monitor progress. This has had some very early offshoots with the Foreign Affairs Ministry setting up a unit to oversee the implementation of projects under TICAD's objectives. Three priority areas were identified, which included infrastructure development, the promotion of human security and the consolidation of peace and good governance. If these programmes of action and new funding and investment mechanisms set up by Japan's aid agencies live up to their promise, long-term development gains - not Asian-modelled, but Japanese-supported - may accrue for the continent.


The trials of trade and aid

Much of the use of East African models was predicated on the budding trade and investment relationship between South Africa and Japan. Indeed, Japan had fostered a 'special relationship' with South Africa since the re-establishment of diplomatic ties after the end of apartheid. Japan disbursed two major aid packages in 1994 and 1999, mostly comprised of loan assistance.

What is more, trade between the two has flourished, so that South Africa is Japan's main trading partner in Africa, with trade totals of more than US$11 billion in 2008. Similarly, Japan is South Africa's principal East African export destination. The trading relationship is characteristic of North-South economic relationships, with South Africa importing technology-intensive goods and exporting base metals. South Africa has begun to export a greater volume of value-added goods, particularly motor components. This has been underpinned by the increase in Japanese investments in South Africa's automotive sector. For example, the export of motor vehicles and related components rose by 41% between 2002 and 2006, carrying a value of approximately $1 bn. in 2006.

Under the broad directions of Japan's trade and aid relationships with the wider African continent, the country's policy towards and economic cooperation with Southern Africa have been influenced to a significant degree by five factors: the comparative lack of conflict (with the exception of Congo-Kinshasa) and the general degree of political stability in the region; the existence of economies of scale which have been more conducive to Japanese investments; movements towards regional integration by the Southern African Development Community; the presence of major resource industries and the availability of strategic resources and metals; and diplomatic considerations related to Japanese foreign policy, particularly relating to broader multilateral objectives.

Even under these promising conditions, however, little has concretely been achieved as far as the early ambitions of transplanting Japanese and Asian models of development to the region. The warm political bonds between Japan and South Africa have cooled as Japan added its voice to growing Western censure over issues related to South African diplomacy towards Zimbabwe. The Asian country's erstwhile bilateral and multilateral enthusiasm for the New Economic Partnership for African Development, initiated among others by South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki, has also yielded somewhat. Finally, over the past number of years the aid relationship between the two countries has soured, as South Africa has been unwilling to expose itself to the currency risks which the loans - all yen-denominated - posed and has cancelled the aid it had received. When the South African government recently revived official discussion of an African developmental state, they were not using the language associated with Asian experiences.

The current economic crisis has claimed many casualties in the automotive industry, and Japanese corporations - some of them major investors in South Africa - have not escaped. Reduced production and demand and closures of plants are likely to affect South African industry severely, denting the only industry in which Japanese investments have had an impact comparable to those in East Asia.


Francophone Africa: Aid without borders

Language and culture prove surmountable obstacles in the expansion of Japanese aid in Africa.

Geographical reach is a prime feature of Japan's aid programme in Africa. There are few regions of the continent where its presence is not felt in grant aid or technical cooperation - and Francophone countries are no exception.

Japan International Cooperation Agency office coverage is thinner in Francophone Africa than in the continent's English-speaking countries, where for language reasons the Agency finds it easier to operate. But as a donor, Japan has become a significant force throughout Africa. In the early part of the decade, it was one of the largest bilateral sources of aid - after France - for Francophone sub-Saharan African countries.

Grant aid to these topped US$284 million in 2007, while technical cooperation was $66 mn. Much the largest recipient of support was Madagascar, but Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda and Senegal also received substantial sums.

Japan does not have particularly close political or cultural ties with most of these countries, so the scale of its commitment might seem surprising. But in the context of its overall development strategy, Tokyo's decision to get involved in the region makes sense: there are many Francophone states among the low-income, stable, reforming countries that are so well-suited to Japan's characteristic focus on apolitical, grassroots technical support for sectors such as agriculture, water and education.

Some of the initiatives to which JICA gives special priority - notably the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) - are particularly appropriate for Francophone countries. For example Mali, thanks to the inland delta of the Niger River, is already an important rice producer, with great potential for further increases in output. In Madagascar rice is a key staple, but crop yields are low and new techniques are needed.

Shinji Umemoto, the head of JICA's Dakar office, explains that the Agency faces practical difficulties in Francophone countries such as Senegal. 'We are short of human resources, due to the lack of French-speaking personnel in general. Therefore, it is difficult to formulate or plan our activities at full scale, to meet the demands of each sector,' he says. 'We are obliged to look for the potential personnel before anything else, whatever the project, and particularly in health.'

In some Francophone countries, such as Guinea, Mauritania, Chad and Madagascar - as in some Anglophone countries - political instability casts a shadow over JICA's activities. Even so, says Umemoto, JICA expects to expand its operations in West Africa's more troubled countries. 'Definitely, sooner or later, we are going to have to restart our business in Côte d'Ivoire. Guinea and Guinea-Bissau - which are covered by our office here in Senegal - should also have more attention in the near future.'

JICA tends to refrain from the sort of engagement in political issues that characterises European donors. Its key prerequisite is the existence of normal diplomatic relations. The other basic concern is security. This applies both in those fragile countries where JICA has hopes of expanding its operations and in troubled corners of existing major client-countries.

Umemoto cites the example of the Casamance region in southern Senegal, which would be well-suited to the propagation of the high-yielding New Rice for Africa varieties that Japan is helping to promote. There is 'high potential' for Nerica to be introduced to boost crop yields in Casamance. But, says Umemoto, 'Due to our strict security controls...JICA Senegal could not take any steps forward towards the possibility of doing business in that area for the moment.'

Elsewhere in Senegal, rice is an important theme of JICA activity, he points out. 'Senegal is one of the most advanced countries in terms of the CARD initiative. Based on the national strategy for rice production of the government of Senegal, we have been trying to promote and improve the quality of local rice, particularly in the region of the Senegal River basin.'

He added, 'A new programme will begin this year with several activities, including upgrading the local rice quality, as well as marketing, promotion and more systematic buying-and-selling activities between producers and distributors, thereby contributing to the promotion of local rice. This should have an impact on food security, as well as maintaining the rice price on a reasonable level.'

The rice campaign is a key component of JICA's overall strategy for Senegal, which has two principal axes. The first is the improvement in the quality of life for the rural population through programmes such as those promoting rural development, sustainable resource management, safe drinking water and educational improvements. The second is the establishment of the foundations for sustainable growth through programmes on food security, promoting industry and economic infrastructure.

As in other African countries, JICA places a heavy emphasis on expert engagement by its own personnel. The Dakar office has 22 Japanese staff and a further 22 national staff. The team includes 60 Japanese cooperation volunteers.

Because it has a strong team, and thus the capacity to tailor programmes to suit specific needs - a distinctive feature of Japanese aid, in marked contrast to the big budget balance of payment support of some other donors - the Dakar office is able to propose new training courses in Japan and new projects each year.



Education: Teaching the teachers

Japan's educational products target improvements in both the quantity and the quality of African education.

Julius Nzioka's red pen makes a squeak as he marks the level of the water on the outside of the glass flask before placing it over the Bunsen burner. 'The heat gets to the glass first,' he says, waiting as the water level dips. 'Then the water expands faster than the glass and it starts rising gradually.'

Experiments like this are rare in African classrooms. Struggling with poor facilities, little money for equipment and inadequate training, Kenyan physics teachers like Nzioka and his colleagues in science and maths departments across sub-Saharan Africa are used to low numbers of students taking their subjects and poor grades from those who do choose to enrol. Students are uninspired by their teachers, whose 'chalk and talk' mantra does little to bring science to life.

In this gleaming physics lab, its shelves lined with test tubes, rubber tubing and flasks, Africa's science teachers are learning to teach anew. Set in the lush Nairobi suburb of Karen, the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (CEMASTEA), offers in-house training for teachers on how to use the materials they have around them to engage students in science and maths.

CEMASTEA is the culmination of 11 years of support by the Japan International Cooperation Agency to help to promote teacher-centred methods in Africa's classroom. What was launched as a pilot project in 1998 between JICA and the Kenyan Education Ministry - the Strengthening of Mathematics and Science in Secondary Education project - has formed a model for similar initiatives across the continent.

During in-service training, maths teachers learn how to fashion globes out of bits of wire or show the difference between an acute or obtuse angle in three dimensions, using sticks and plasticine. Chemistry teachers, who do not have access to gas to fuel Bunsen burners in their classrooms, are shown how experiments can work just as well with a cooking stove or firewood.

The training centre at CEMASTEA was set up in 2003 with 1.3 billion yen (US$13.2 million) from JICA. That was used to refurbish buildings, equip laboratories and set up a computer lab. The Centre has become one of the continent's leading think tanks on science and maths pedagogy, and over 1,000 trainers have been educated in its classrooms. These trainers then pass on skills to other teachers through courses run at district training centres, 108 of which have been provided with supplies by JICA.

The in-service training model is spreading across Africa, with each country adapting the programme to suit its needs. Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and Burkina Faso have all created their own versions. Niger has run a successful pilot for the last three years, which will soon be extended, while Senegal has recently started training courses for primary school teachers and Rwanda for secondary teachers. After a workshop at CEMASTEA for eight Angolan education officials and trainers, Angola began to develop a Lusophone programme.

Simple problems

Trainers often have a lot to learn about how to organise experiments in their classrooms, says Francis Mwesigye, a national biology trainer working with the Ugandan programme. 'We discovered that even the simplest practicals that could be done, teachers were using the blackboard and chalk and maybe textbooks.'

In keeping with Japan's focus on facilitating South-South cooperation, trainers at CEMASTEA have spent time observing activity-based science teaching in large classes in Malaysia and the Philippines during technical support visits funded by JICA. They borrowed lessons - both good and bad - from similar JICA projects aimed at improving science and maths teaching. Japanese experts are also based at CEMASTEA to help support the Kenyan trainers, while in Uganda, JICA has funded a library and teacher training centre in Kampala.

The Kenyan government has integrated in-service training into its education programme, taking over full responsibility for teaching training. 'We are not looking at it as a project, we are looking at it as part and parcel of government expenditure,' says Karega Mutahi, Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry. This has not been without its difficulties: JICA's support provided allowances to the teachers attending the training, but the government cannot afford to pay them. However, Mutahi explains that 'political ownership is critical', and that the government must remain firm if the training is to be sustainable.

The results of teacher training are marked. In Kenya, physics enrolment has risen from 20% of secondary school students five years ago to 30% in 2009. At State House Girls, a secondary school in Nairobi, there has been a gradual rise in biology and maths grades in the Certificate for Secondary Education since teacher training started in 2004. Now science teachers at the school are asked for advice from the humanities department on how to plan lessons.

'The impact has been in terms of the attitudes of the teachers,' says Lynette Kisaka, who runs the CEMASTEA centre. Where principals might have preferred to buy a school bus rather than build a laboratory, now they are beginning to prioritise the sciences. Parents and community leaders are also being persuaded that science is not as difficult as they once thought and that girls, in particular, will not automatically fail.

In Uganda, Nakajima Moto, a Japanese technical advisor working on the Ugandan programme, which is soon to be expanded to other subjects such as history and English, says the programme is also having a wider impact on other teachers. 'Before there was a sort of phobia for teachers showing lesson plans to each other. We are trying to break up that barrier and let them share their experiences in the classroom.'

Following the project's success, JICA will spend a further 545 mn. Kenyan shillings (US$7 mn.) between 2009 and 2013 to support the extension of the programme into Kenyan primary schools with a target to reach 60,000 teachers and 20,000 principals and their deputies. This money - 20% of the budget estimate for the in-service training programme over the next five years - will be used to provide training materials and to support a 34-country network based out of CEMASTEA that has been set up to share expertise on science and maths teaching.

With close to 100 mn. children in the developing world still outside of the school system, improving education is a challenge. Teacher training programmes are part of Japan's wider education initiatives, those focused on primary and secondary schooling.

Reflecting the multilateralism that colours many Japanese aid efforts, its education projects support the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and the pursuit of free, compulsory primary education. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in April that Japan would finance the construction of 1,000 new schools in Africa within five years, enabling 400,000 more students to attend classes. The construction programme and teacher training will help students and teachers to have the skills to boost national development.


Japan and the other donors: Delivering difference

Japanese aid agencies remain apolitical and focused on technical issues, unlike their Western, multilateral and Chinese donors.

A year after the ambitious agenda-setting Tokyo International Conference on African Development IV in May 2008, Japan insists it is still on course to achieve a promised doubling of aid to Africa by 2012. Tokyo's commitment to the targets set out in the Yokohama Action Plan appears undimmed by the pressures of the global economic crisis.

Although a marked rise in loan finance is promised, grant aid - the most costly form of assistance - will keep pace with the overall rise, jumping from US$0.7 billion in 2008 to $1.4 bn. in 2012. Such sustained support for Africa should enhance Japan's clout in the donor community and as a player in the wider development debate. But how is Tokyo using this influence? And how do its activities dovetail with those of big donors in Africa - the multilateral agencies, the European Union, Britain, United States and France?

A striking feature of Japan's approach has always been its careful avoidance of the difficult, sometimes confrontational political and governance issues into which the Europeans and the USA often get drawn. Tokyo appears determined to stick with this stance, despite the increased influence that its expansion of aid confers. The policy has its roots in history. Japanese officials point out that their country's aid programme has its origins in the delicate climate of post-Second World War Asia. The country felt under an obligation to help its neighbours, so many of whom had been affected by its invasions and occupations of the early 1940s.

In such a climate, Japan had to present its offers of support with sensitivity and respect for the internal affairs of recipient states. This led it to focus on the practicalities of economic and social development, steering well clear of governance and political concerns. So this philosophy was already well embedded in the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japanese development bureaucracy when Tokyo started to extend aid to Africa and regions outside of Asia.
Moreover, Japan approached Africa as a relative newcomer, with growing trade relationships but no strategic political agenda other than protecting its whaling rights and seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Unlike France, the UK and Portugal, it had no post-colonial zone of influence to protect. Unlike the US and the Soviet Union, it was not fighting to corral African states into a particular Cold-War camp.

The context has shifted again. The disintegration of Cold War patterns, combined with the efforts of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to overhaul Africa's development performance, led the donor establishment to reinforce its focus on conditionality - economic and financial in the case of the Fund and Bank, political in the case of Europe and the US. Yet now the picture is further complicated by the bullish intervention of China, offering economic partnerships with few strictures other than acceptance of the One China Policy.

Changing aid ideas

Throughout these changes, Japan has stuck to its philosophy - financial and technical support for the practicalities of development, with a strong grassroots engagement and an avoidance of wider political and economic policy agendas. Whereas many Western donors see Chinese engagement as a challenge - whether deliberate or not - to the power of the strong conditionality framework they had built up since 1990, Japan's activities are not viewed in these terms. Although different from the Euro-American approach, Japanese development policy in Africa is not seen as a threat.

That is partly down to the modest and self-effacing tone of Japanese diplomacy on the continent - and Tokyo's seeming lack of ambition. It is also results from the way that Japanese aid policy has evolved as a neat and useful complement to the strategies of Western governments and the big multilateral agencies.

Japan has readily signed up to the major aid initiatives including Heavily Indebted Poor Country debt relief, the Millennium Development Goals and support for infrastructure. It stays out of the argument over issues such as democratisation by focusing support on long-term technical programmes of the kind that most donors maintain regardless of political relations.

With the exception of a very few cases - notably Tanzania - Japan does not give general budget or balance-of-payments support. It is this general financing that is the main tool deployed by Europe and the US when they seek to exert influence on political concerns.

When the EU and its member states are concerned about a regime's attitude towards political reform, electoral conduct or media freedom, it is the budget support tap that is turned off in an effort to exert pressure. Similarly, when a country fails to meet financial and economic targets agreed with the IMF, it is the Fund's core support for government, that tends to get suspended in an effort to pressure for a change of course.

Because they are rarely providers of budget aid, the Japanese are rarely affected by or involved in arguments over politics, governance and economic policy. On the other hand, if Japanese projects are not incorporated into government forecasts, getting official support and engagement is more difficult. Project aid is often less efficient than budget support in terms of addressing issues of national scope.

In any case, other donors have come around to the view that an all-or-nothing approach to conditionality is counter-productive. A near total halt of aid to Togo in the 1990s after a wave of human rights abuses achieved little more than the fostering of further economic collapse while the regime remained unshaken.

Tokyo's approach differs in other respects. Japan is a strong believer in the value of deploying experts in fairly large numbers and for longer periods, closely supported by a network of cooperation volunteers. There is a strong focus on direct involvement by development personnel at the community level, supported by investment in training.

Japan also places heavy emphasis on direct support for physical infrastructure: for example, it has promised to finance new power transmission lines, build 5,500 classrooms and develop safe drinking water facilities for 6.5 million people by the end of 2012. Its programme envisages high levels of support for training teachers, health workers and water managers, rather than more generalised central or community governance activities. The Japanese approach has received a positive assessment from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee.

Focused on grassroots matters, Tokyo's policy is prepared to negotiate a changing environment for development assistance - in which Europe and the US are having to reassess how they continue to apply conditionality. But even so, the effectiveness of Japanese programmes will depend partly on the stances of Brussels, Washington, London and Paris. Well-governed, peaceful African countries with sustained economic growth provide a much more fertile environment for JICA-style technical development schemes that those that are unstable, financially fragile or on poor terms with the donor community.


JICA Research Institute: The search for answers

A newly reorganised JICA has a new research institute that will provide different ideas for supporting African development.

A 'new' Japan International Cooperation Agency needs new ideas. Prior to the restructuring of JICA, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation's policy research was carried out by the JBIC Institute, while JICA had the Institute for International Cooperation. The JICA Research Institute (JICA-RI) gathers their personnel under one roof. The new think tank enjoys a continuity of expertise, while gaining the advantage of close integration with the policy-makers and programme leaders of JICA.

JICA-RI's research into the needs of developing countries shapes the policies that JICA implements. Its work is intended for a wide audience that encompasses not only JICA itself but also governments abroad, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and an international network of research institutions.

JICA-RI concentrates its research on four areas: peace and development, growth and poverty reduction, climate change and aid strategies. The peace and development branch seeks remedies for 'human security threats' - disease, human trafficking and the drugs trade - and works to identify sources of - and solutions to - armed conflict.

Japan's own dramatic post-war economic growth and its long historical involvement as advisor and donor to fast-developing Asian nations give it a unique perspective on development. The JICA-RI group focused on economic growth and poverty reduction studies the factors behind such development to identify growth strategies that can be applied to African contexts. Another department looks at how climate change has the potential to wreak catastrophic damage on developing nations, which are often ill-equipped to cope with the consequences. JICA-RI draws both on JICA's experience and scientific research to explore possible remedies.

The aid researchers are looking beyond the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations-driven initiative to alleviate the worst of the developing world's social and environmental afflictions. The MDG programme concludes in 2015. After that, a new aid framework will be needed to build on the successes of the MDGs - and cope with the failures.

JICA-RI's strengths lie in its experience of Asian development, which serves it well in its operations throughout South-east Asia. It has turned to partnerships with fellow think tanks, including Britain's Overseas Development Institute (ODI), to supplement its knowledge of African challenges.

One village, one success

The 'One Village, One Product' movement is a model that JICA hopes to export across the globe. Tried and tested, OVOP has since become a pillar of Japan's commitments to African development, which were made at the 2008 summits of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development IV and Group of Eight meetings. OVOP originated in 1979 as an initiative led by Morihiko Hiramatsu, Governor of Oita Prefecture. Rural areas in Oita, on the mountainous south-western island of Kyushu, suffered when residents abandoned the countryside for urban opportunities.

Hiramatsu proposed that each village specialise in the production of a single - usually agricultural - product. The idea was for each village to concentrate its resources for maximum efficiency, while avoiding competition from other villages. These would then be marketed throughout Japan and abroad. In fact, most villages developed more than one product, but often became known for one in particular. Hiramatsu encouraged local rivalries to be channelled toward commercial competition.

In Oita, the OVOP became a branding exercise. Oita City became known for shiso, a mint, while Saiki City produced fresh yellowtail tuna. Tourist maps appeared, directing travellers to the homes of the various local products. Railway stations were redecorated to advertise the products to passengers and give them a reason to get off at what might otherwise be just another stop on the line.

The advantages of the OVOP are clear: rather than emphasising heavy capital investment, it taps local creativity and talent. Rather than relying on government intervention, villages are encouraged to turn traditional products into unique, marketable goods. In Japan's experience, OVOP reduced reliance on government subsidies and grants. Yet the OVOP programme was successful due to certain factors that developing nations might not share. Japan's extensive transport infrastructure, for instance, was crucial for taking products to market and bringing tourists to villages. JICA shopped the OVOP concept around ten African countries in 2007 - Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In Ghana, JICA has already provided support to women's groups manufacturing shea butter and soap.

The following year, JICA and Britain's ODI evaluated OVOP to see how it might serve African development. The resulting report highlighted the complementary role that OVOP could play alongside macroeconomic policies to stimulate small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
SMEs make a significant contribution to African economies in terms of national income and employment. However, they face constraints that include inadequate access to finance, endemic corruption and a low skill base. In some areas, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and lack of electricity also inhibit growth. Top-down social and macroeconomic policies address these problems, but results can be frustratingly elusive.

OVOP attempts to make a difference by tackling microeconomics: rather than trying to change the overarching economic environment, OVOP programmes target small firms and groups of households that can mobilise local resources.

Malawi has the longest-established OVOP programme in Africa, and it is here that JICA has found the most hopeful signs that OVOP may catch on. The Malawian model is a sort of microfinance scheme directed largely at rural women. Co-funded by Japan and Malawi, OVOP became part of the national development plan in 2003. It is a special project of the President, Bingu Wa Mutharika, who personally chairs the National OVOP Board. The programme supports 46 projects, mostly of value-added agricultural products.

The JICA-ODI study found tentative, but encouraging, signs of success. Though small in scale, with about US$500,000 in dispersed funds, the Malawi OVOP has an established institutional structure and some of its projects have grown rapidly.

This is economic development by way of export promotion. JICA ensures a path to Japanese markets, and some OVOP products also reach South Africa. Models of this sort have succeeded in Asia and JICA-RI believes that targeted government support for small-scale enterprise shows promise for empowering and raising the income of rural communities.

The same study warns that the success of OVOP in Malawi may be too reliant on the enthusiasm of President Mutharika. It is not yet certain that the new institution could withstand a substantial shift in political winds.


Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) offices in Africa

  • JICA Regional Support Office for Africa, Nairobi, Kenya
  • JICA/Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) Benin Office, Cotonou, Benin
  • JICA/(JOCV) Botswana Office, Gaborone, Botswana
  • JICA Cameroon Office, Yaounde, Cameroon
  • JICA Côte d'Ivoire Office, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
  • JICA Congo-Kinshasa Office, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • JICA Djibouti Office, Djibouti
  • JICA Egypt Office, Cairo, Egypt
  • JICA Ethiopia Office, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • JICA Gabon Office, Libreville, Gabon
  • JICA Ghana Office, Accra, Ghana
  • JICA Kenya Office, Nairobi, Kenya
  • JICA Madagascar Office, Antananarivo, Madagascar
  • JICA Malawi Office, Lilongwe, Malawi
  • JICA Morocco Office, Rabat, Morocco
  • JICA Mozambique Office, Maputo, Mozambique
  • JOCV Namibia Office, Windhoek, Namibia
  • JICA Niger Office, Niamey, Niger
  • JICA Nigeria Office, Abuja, Nigeria
  • JICA Rwanda Office, Kigali, Rwanda
  • JICA Senegal Office, Dakar, Senegal
  • JICA South Africa Office, Pretoria, South Africa
  • JICA Sudan Office, Khartoum, Sudan
  • JICA Tanzania Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • JICA Tunisia Office, Tunis, Tunisia
  • JICA Uganda Office, Kampala, Uganda
  • JICA Zambia Office, Lusaka, Zambia
  • JICA Zimbabwe Office, Harare, Zimbabwe