Editor of New Era Chrispin Inambao recently interviewed Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila in Nairobi, Kenya where she led a Namibian delegation for the two-day Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) hosted this year in Africa for the first time. It was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and over 30 African leaders, among them Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Following is an excerpt of the candid interview.
Thank you Prime Minister for according us this interview at such short notice. What economic, social and political significance does it have for an African country to have hosted the first ever TICAD Conference on the African continent?
The significance is that the conference was held in Africa for the first time, particularly in the area where TICAD activities are to be implemented. This also highlights that you have a country that wants to work with Africa, not only in the areas of economic cooperation, trade and investment, but also in civil society and the corporate sector, both of whom are very important stakeholders with government for the development of Africa. The taking place of this meeting on the African continent also highlights the aspect of partnership as an important principle of TICAD, where you do not only have an advanced country that determines ‘This is what we are prepared to do in Africa’, but you have a country that is prepared to do for Africans, but the Africans must determine what it is they think they should be assisted in and how in the activities that they have identified as challenges, and how they should be undertaken. I think that is very, very important. It is within the spirit of country ownership of development assistance, as agreed upon to guide overseas assistance and also South-South cooperation.
In your view, what have been the highlights of the Sixth TICAD Conference?
The highlight is that the TICAD VI Conference noted that there was significant progress made in the implementation of the agreed activities under TICAD V that were agreed upon that preceded the TICAD VI that was agreed at this conference.
Point number two: at this conference we discussed a range of issues that require the attention of not only African states, but partners of Africa in development, that need to be addressed if the cooperation between us and our global partners is to generate optimal benefits that will help us to realise the targets that we have set for ourselves under our cooperation programmes.
Thirdly, we had high participation of the private sector, which we have long determined as the engine for growth… and unless the private sector actively participates in deliberations on strategies for achieving in development in Africa it would not be possible for us to optimise the resources and capabilities of the private sector to enable it to play its due role in the economic development of Africa.
So, here we had the participation of the private sector, not only from Africa, but also from Japan and other countries. It means the cooperation that we’re going to pursue as African governments – together with the Japanese government – will eventually galvanise private sector activities and, therefore, make the cooperation between Africa and Japan more sustainable in the medium- to long-term, because we cannot hope to continue our cooperation on the basis of government to government aid assistance. Eventually the cooperation between our governments and the aid that we receive from Japan and other development partners should catalyse private sector trade and investments. That is the only way we’re going to ensure that the African [economies] are assisted to grow and African states are able to share in the growing prosperity in the world.
Namibia has been one of the 20 African countries that signed memoranda of understanding, either with Japanese companies or the government of Japan. Kindly give us some insight into what the MoU contains and what it means for Namibia?
Namibia’s programme of cooperation with Japan has been going on for a number of years and many of the memoranda of agreement that we needed to sign in order to pave the way for the operationalising of our cooperation activities have already been signed. For those that have not yet been signed… we’re hoping to conclude our engagement in order to ensure those could be signed directly with them. The expectation was not necessarily that it will be done here. Our participation here was more to make our inputs into the conference and also to have side meetings with the individual stakeholders from Japan, like the one we had now with Marubeni Corporation, which is a large corporate from Japan.
Is there any timeframe concerning these MoUs that were signed and will this agreement mean more Japanese presence and visibility in Namibia in terms of investment, aid, technical assistance and more bilateral cooperation?
Yes, obviously any agreement that is concluded would hopefully achieve that. We believe that there is greater untapped potential for cooperation with Japan than what we have realised so far, especially in private sector cooperation involving investment by Japanese companies, or the export of Namibian products to Japan. The interest shown by Japanese companies really indicates that this potential could be optimised in the future and we believe that some of the events that we have scheduled, including the investment conference that we have arranged for the end of this year, would open possibilities for Japanese companies to come to Namibia and have exchanges with Namibian counterparts, out of which will come practical projects for investment and trade between Japanese companies and Namibian companies. Obviously where one has an agreement signed normally this is time-bound and our expectation is that the agreed activities will be carried out within the times that are agreed upon.
What were your impressions of the representatives of Marubeni Corporation whom you met and who represent a big Japanese multinational?
I’m quite fascinated by the expertise that they possess and their resources – be it technological, financial or otherwise. We’re also impressed, because they seem to have been in Namibia already and identified specific economic activities that they want to be involved in. They wanted to be appraised of developments that were pending, or they wanted clarity on how to approach certain things. I got the impression that with the information that we have provided to them they would make appropriate follow-ups and hopefully we’re going to see some practical investments activities coming out of the contacts that we’ve had with them.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, among others, spoke about the need for enhanced friendship among African countries and even with Japan. The fact that the global system of trade and development is under threat from an increase in the number of countries turning towards isolationism and unfair trade positions. What is your assessment of the sentiment expressed by Kenyatta?
Indeed the African continent has made clear its development agenda through the AU Agenda 2063. It’s now very clear where Africa wants to go and Agenda 2063 has made it very clear that Africa wants deeper integration of the continent. TICAD will, therefore, support Africa.
As the president of Kenya indicated there are other challenges in the global trading system, which seems not equitable, because we, as Africans, find it difficult to penetrate the markets of the developed economies that have an entrenched system of giving subsidies to their companies, which makes it difficult for our companies to compete with theirs. Even if we are to do the things we have to do it may still be a challenge for us to compete in global trade, because of protectionism from the developed world. Africa needs to penetrate those markets in order for us to also become industrialised economies.
Lastly, how would you describe the Sixth TICAD conference?
My general impression is that it has been great success for the same reasons that I have articulated above.