World Bank Vice President calls for win-win relationship between Japan and Africa

obi.jpgWorld Bank Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili has said that Japan should seek a win-win relationship with Africa by promoting private investment that goes beyond the narrow pursuit of the continent’s ample natural resources.

”The important thing is, as countries pursue their national interests, that in terms of cooperation and collaboration with other countries they can pursue their interests in a way that creates win-win situations,” she said in an interview with Kyodo News on the sidelines of the Tokyo International Forum on African Development.

The former Nigerian education minister said Japan and Africa can establish a ”true partnership” in which Japan can provide its agricultural technology and official development assistance, while Africa can offer an attractive destination for its private investment across a broad range of sectors including not only minerals but telecommunications, textiles, and emerging financial markets.

”Today, Africa is only looked at by some for its natural resources endowment, but Africa is much more than that. Africa is a good destination for every range of business other than mineral resources,” Obiageli said.

Obiageli, who is in charge of the African region at the World Bank, also said that a growing number of leaders in Africa are capable of more effectively handling foreign aid due to notable advances in governance and establishment of stable democracies and transparent legislative frameworks in their countries.

”It took Africa a long time to be able to shed the weight of military misgovernance,” Obiageli said, adding the lack of transparency and governance stifled innovation and private sector growth in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

”Africa is now better in charge of its development priorities. It actually is in the lead in defining what kind of support it needs. And that is helping Africa to do better,” she said, citing Uganda and Ghana as recent models of success.

Calling Africa ”the next growth pole in the world,” Obiageli urged the Japanese private sector to shed its poor image of the continent and to venture into the ”virgin market.”

”Today we’re talking Asia, but the next place is Africa because as much more people discover Africa, they see the huge returns on investment,” she said.

Despite an average solid growth of around 5.7 percent in 2007, Obiageli did acknowledge a huge ”infrastructure deficit” in Africa, which created a major disincentive for private investment.

She said Africa needs to grow at least 7 percent annually for the continent to fully lift itself from poverty, making it more relevant to combine the use of foreign aid to fill infrastructural gaps while spurring business activity in the region.

In opening the three-day African development meeting on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said he hopes to double both Japan’s official development assistance and private investment in the continent, including a $2.5 billion provision of financial assistance from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

But Obiageli remained upbeat that ultimately sustainable economic growth backed by active private sector involvement will be the key to solving remaining major development challenges in Africa, including poverty, hunger and infectious diseases.

”There are huge risks in Africa, but…the returns outweigh the risks,” Obiageli said. ”Africa is open for business and those who take the opportunity today will be the leading players tomorrow in the global economy.”

The World Bank is a co-sponsor of TICAD, which has drawn leaders and delegates from 52 African nations, the biggest in scale since the launch of the conference in 1993.

Source: Kyodo News