Defeating violent extremism is the priority

In an exclusive interview, former JICA Director General Dr Akihiko Tanaka explains what he considers the major challenges that will be  addressed in Nairobi at TICAD VI.


Stephen Williams: What are the priority issues to be discussed at TICAD VI?

Dr Akihiko Tanaka: Reducing violent extremism is, I think, the most difficult challenge. It will require a lot of coordinated effort in peacekeeping efforts, diplomatic efforts, humanitarian assistance as well as development co-operation.

From our perspective, reducing youth unemployment is important but that alone will not entirely resolve the issues. But we should not forget that economic development and development cooperation can play a major role to change the environment in which extreme violent extremisms breeds. But it’s a complex and very difficult issue.

AB: On the issue of energy gap, and how to close the gap between electricity demand and its supply, post Fukushima, where do you stand on whether Africa should pursue nuclear energy?

AT: It is my understanding that there are not that many African countries interested in developing nuclear energy, and Japan as a country has not decided to abolish nuclear energy production entirely. Japan has companies that are selling nuclear power reactors, so Japan is not denying the potential of nuclear power production, but I think that for the foreseeable future the energy needs of Africa should be pursued with more conventional and more renewable energy.

AB: What about geothermal, where the Japanese are also historically strong?

AT: Geothermal, as well as solar and wind have huge potential, a much bigger [potential] than we had anticipated in the past. Combining battery storage development, wind and solar could become a much more reliable energy sources. Wind and solar alone fluctuates, so you need to have stable storage. We need to combine solar and wind with some sort of battery storage. I think there is great potential in technological innovation.

AB: What would you like to see emerge from the Nairobi TICAD conference?

AT: TICAD is not simply Japan in Africa. It also involves the UN, UNDP, AU, World Bank, AfDB and others. I want all our partners to consider TICAD a useful platform to formulate Africa’s development agenda.

AB: What can Japan do to stimulate greater industrialisation in Africa?

AT: It is a bit hard to find a consensus as to what is the best way to industrialise. The industrialisation question is clearly important, but so is the agricultural and food security. The cultivation of rice is one important area that Japan is able to play. As you know, Africa as a whole has to import rice and but I think the potential is there for Africa to produce enough rice for its own needs. Rice is one area, but there are others and they can be linked to industrialisation.

We have what is called the small holder horticulture empowerment project, and that has produced some encouraging results – for example in Kenya, organising farmers in the suburbs of Nairobi. Particularly women farmers are quite active in that project. There are many grass root startups and of larger projects in the export of cut flowers.

Speaking of value added products, there are not that many products from Africa that can be exported to Japan, but that might change if Africa can upgrade industrialisation. The focus should be on quality rather than quantity – the roasting and grinding of coffee for example or the processing of high value products such as macadamia nuts. These have proved quite successful.

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