May 27 2008

A New Bidding War for Aid to Africa?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:29 PM

The government of Japan, the Financial Times reported today, plans to double assistance to African governments as part of a new charm offensive aimed at winning Tokyo more international allies.

With China and India already wooing Africans, Japan’s increased attentions are no surprise. As I have written elsewhere, Asians are suddenly in love with Africa, trying to elbow aside Europeans and Americans who have long dominated discourse on how to help Africans. I call the phenomena, “the browning of Africa,” in reference to a decisive turning point in world history: once a stage for whites and blacks to play out historic psycho-economic dramas, Africa is now becoming multicultural, and Asians see the opportunity to destroy “white” hegemony over the “dark continent” through economic penetration and technical assistance. Given the sorry history of black-white relations in Africa over the centuries, the Asian insertion can only be good news, even though interest in Africa by official agencies of India, China and Japan reflects complex motives.
For decades, the Japanese have quietly run curious aid programs in sub-Saharan Africa. This past January, in Kampala, I met a young Japanese man who confessed to being an auto mechanic assigned by the Japanese government to train the Ugandan police “motor pool” on how to repair their growing fleet of automobiles.

When I asked how long Japanese taxpayers were covering his stay in Uganda, the Japanese car mechanic gleefully confessed, “One year!”

When I expressed astonishment on the length of his stay, he explained, “Toyotas are popular here.”

And about to become more so. This week Japan’s prime minister Fukuda expects to hold marathon private meetings with the governments of 45 African nations. Does he even have the auto mechanic to help him?

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