, YOKOHAMA, Japan, Jun 2 – Japan said on Sunday it would give $1 billion in aid to help stabilise the Sahel region of Africa, months after the deaths of 10 Japanese in a hostage crisis there.
The money is part of a $14 billion aid package to be given to Africa over five years, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Saturday at the start of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
“Japan will provide 100 billion yen ($1 billion) in assistance over five years for the development and stability of the Sahel,” Abe told heads of government from around 40 African nations.
The cash comes in addition to a $120 million aid pledge Tokyo announced in January, days after Islamist gunmen overran a gas plant in the Algerian desert and killed dozens of foreigners.
The four-day crisis ended bloodily when Algerian commandos stormed the plant.
Graphic pictures and accounts that emerged in the days after the assault indicated executions and sent a collective shudder through Japan, whose energy and infrastructure firms are heavily committed in the region.
Japan’s death toll of 10 was the highest of any nation whose citizens were caught up in the crisis. It was an unusual taste of jihadist anger for a country far removed from violence in the Muslim world.
Despite the Japanese public’s wariness of unrest in far-off and little-known places, government, industry and academic leaders warned the resource-poor archipelago cannot withdraw its energy interests from areas like the Sahel.
Instead, they said, Tokyo must take the lead in helping to create stability, through social programmes and development that can divert anger and tackle the unemployment and poverty that experts say leads to extremism.
Katsumi Hirano, chief researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies, said Tokyo needed to be seen to be doing something.
Abe’s latest pledge “is important to show Japan’s commitment to the peacebuilding in Africa”, he said.
Abe said that in addition to the financial aid unveiled Sunday, Japan will also support the training of 2,000 people in counter-terrorism and security maintenance activities.
“We believe that the assistance we provide in line with the concept of human security, such as the strengthening of social systems, with particular focus on food, education and health… will bring hope for economic development to the people of the region, thereby contributing to stability,” he said.
“It is our sincere wish that the Sahel region is restored to peace and stability and recovers its place as the centre of prosperity in northern and western Africa. In order to do so, we must take action together,” he said.
Dioncounda Traore, interim president of Mali, said security in the region was improving, thanks in part to intervention by French-led forces after Islamist rebels seized control of his country’s north in the wake of a military coup last year.
“What lessons have we learned from all these? Firstly, the necessity to build well-equipped armies so that we can face threats against security and peace,” he said.
But as well as military power, he said, there must be an effort to improve governance, boost schemes to counter food shortages and provide work for the unemployed.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, sounded a grim warning against the world taking its eye off the Sahel.
“We cannot look at Mali in isolation,” Guterres said, noting the area is prone to food crises and conflict, which can lead to displacement of people, organised crime and extremism.
“If these factors are not properly addressed, including at the regional and global level, we face the risk of a series of interlinked crises from Libya to Nigeria and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Aden,” Guterres said.