Rule of Global Etiquette No. 1: When you throw a party for the exclusive club of the world's richest countries, you have to make sure the poorest don't feel shut out. Who knows? They might be your customers one day.
Japan is adhering to that rule as it plays host this week to the Group of Eight nations in Toyako, a hot springs resort on the northern island of Hokkaido. It made certain that the poorest of continents received Day 1 attention from the main conferees (the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan and Russia). And so "outreach sessions" were scheduled with the leaders of Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. In May, Tokyo also gathered 40 African leaders for a conference on development. The inextricably linked fuel and food crises have made the plight of Africa even more pressing in the past few months.
High on the political agenda is Zimbabwe. And, during their discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, such leaders as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed public chagrin over Robert Mugabe's hijacking of the presidential runoff there. The G-8 leaders do not accept the legitimacy of Mugabe's government.
As righteous as such concerns for African democracy may be, the wealthiest nations have not exactly been keeping their promises on pocketbook matters. The G-8 has been criticized for not following through with its pledge to double annual aid to Africa to $62 billion (in current dollar terms) by 2010. Japan has unilaterally announced its commitment to double its official development assistance, now at about $960 million, by 2012. It also said it would build roads, power grids and other types of infrastructure across the continent and help double Africa's rice production in 10 years. Japan, the world's largest donor in the water and sanitation sectors in Africa since the 1990s, is expected to get the G-8 to commit to encouraging resources management that would facilitate the safe return of treated wastewater to rivers and streams.
Japan's trade with African nations in 2007, which amounted to $26.4 billion, was a robust increase of 16.3% over that figure in 2006. Nevertheless, at the May conference in Tokyo, Japan pledged to double the business as opposed to aid it sends to Africa by 2013 and intends to encourage the Japanese private sector to double its investments in Africa to $3.4 billion by 2012.
The Toyako summit has also allowed the G-8 to show its concern for the health of Africa's populace. During U.S-Japan bilateral talks on Sunday, President Bush urged greater cooperation to support medical systems in that continent. Some of the G-8 leaders have announced their intention to help the World Health Organization reach its goal of 2.3 health workers per 1,000 of population. Other proposals tackle specific diseases, aiming to eradicate polio and to reduce the prevalence of HIV-AIDS and malaria-related deaths.
The most immediate concern of African leaders, however, is rising food prices. On Monday, these leaders asked the G-8 to help increase the continent's food-production capacity and provide appropriate technology, and seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season, which begins in September. The G-8 said it would aid the African agriculture industry, particularly its small farmers and continue the emergency response during the food crisis. However, World Bank president Robert Zoellick noted that export restrictions on food, now imposed by 26 countries, hinder the emergency response to Africa and that such bans and taxes should be eased. "What we need are resources, actions and results in real time," said Zoellick. "Countries need to deliver on their promises, and I think that was the tone that generally set the discussion."