The government of Japan through its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged its support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with a preparation of a US$83.4 million humanitarian assistance package which will go to the stabilization West Africa’s Sahel region.
The Japanese Prime Minister also indicated that the package is intended to spur economic growth in the region and as well promote more Japanese investment.
According to a dispatch from Abidjan, where a mini ECOWAS Summit was convened over the weekend, Prime Minister Abe made the commitment at a State Dinner hosted by President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire following a meeting with Heads of State of the regional organization in the Ivoirian capital on Friday, January 10. President Ouattara is the current Chairman of (ECOWAS).
Countries in the Sahel region have been plagued with natural disasters such as drought and famine along with the man-made burden civil conflict. In recent times the civil conflict in Mali has put the region’s fragility in the spotlight and garnered international attention.
The Japanese Prime Minister is on a week-long first visit to Africa, which includes stops in Mozambique and Ethiopia. His visit is expected to further enhance Japan’s economic ties with Africa, including business relations, while also highlighting Japan’s efforts toward international peace.
“Solidarity gives strength. It’s a simple but a strong message which ECOWAS is conveying to the world. The efforts that you have expended to stabilize the Sahel region lead to respect,” Prime Minister Abe told the ECOWAS leaders at the State Dinner, adding, “Japan wants to support you. That is why we are preparing $83.4 million worth of assistance in favor of the Sahel region.”
Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Africa follows the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), held in Yokohama, Japan, back in June 2013, which was attended by nearly 40 African Heads of State and Government. At that meeting, Japan discussed, among other issues, trade and investment, as well as peace and stability in Africa. Japan also pledged a US$14.4 billion aid package over the next five years as part of a broader envelope of US$32.8 billion in private sector investment.
Mr. Abe’s visit was the first by a Japanese Head of Government to Africa in the past eight years. In 2006, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Ethiopia and Ghana.
Making remarks earlier during the opening meeting with ECOWAS leaders, Prime Minister Abe said his country would partner with them to promote peace and security in the region, which he said would in return help spur economic activities and boost development in the region.
The Japanese leader said the need to promote peace and security in West Africa had become crucial due to the region’s strategic place in the global economy. Mr. Abe indicated that Japan, as a long-standing friend to many countries in the region, would continue to engage in issues to promote economic development.
Welcoming his guest, the ECOWAS Chairman, President Ouattaera, observed that West Africa is blessed with investment opportunities capable of triggering sustainable economic development.
He noted that ECOWAS Member States are ready to work with Japan toward deepening economic integration and cooperation that would be mutually beneficial. “ECOWAS Member States see Japan’s interest in the region as a welcome development. It is our hope that we will enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said.
Welcoming Prime Minister Abe to Côte d’Ivoire and the region – the first such visit by a Japanese Head of Government to his country – Ivorian President Ouattara termed the visit a milestone in the relations between the two countries and the region. “Your presence is a testimony to our common desire to continue the development of our states and collectively ensure the well-being of our people,” President Ouattara said, adding that beyond la Côte d’Ivoire, ECOWAS and its people welcomed him in a context of deepening economic integration.
President Ouattara indicated that the dynamism of the region calls for the strengthening of its strategic partnership with Japan in various spheres, including infrastructure, safety, new technologies and the involvement of the Japanese private sector.
“In a world where regional groupings reassure the people and strengthen the bonds of solidarity between nations, Japan and the ECOWAS countries have in common the goal of building a peaceful world, based on a representative global governance of our time,” the ECOWAS Chairman told the visiting Japanese Premier. He reiterated the call of ECOWAS Member States to reform and expand the United Nations Security Council and to ensure that Africa is represented among the permanent members.
Meanwhile, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on Friday January 10, 2014 joined 12 of her West African colleagues for a two-day mini-Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government with Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
During President Sirleaf’s stay in Abidjan, she held discussions with the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, as well as closed-door discussions with President Ouattara. She also met with the leadership of the Liberian community in Côte d’Ivoire.