TICAD: The enduring relevance of a unique policy forum
Less than 90 days separate us from the Sixth Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) which will be held in Nairobi on 27 and 28 August 2016. TICAD VI is expected to draw more than 6000 participants from governments, international organizations, civil society and private sector organizations.
What precisely is TICAD?
It was instituted in 1993 to advocate for and foster international partnerships for African development under the joint leadership of Japan, the United Nations and then Global Coalition for Africa. Current co-organizers are Japan, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank (since TICAD III), the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa and most recently the African Union Commission (since TICAD V).
TICAD came into being in the midst of what has been dubbed as the “lost development decades”, the bleak 80s and 90s, a time when the continent was beset by the painful constraints of structural adjustments programmes, unable to catch a break, and when Japan was in throes of a two-decades-long deflation rut. With the End of the Cold War, major donors with the notable exception of Japan, were questioning the relevance of development aid to Africa.
What started out as just another high-level gathering, turned out to be anything but. TICAD kept African development high on the international agenda, continued to evolve into a unique open and multi-stakeholder forum, and ushered in new ways of conducting development policy dialogue.
What has changed since then?
Africa has gone through undeniable transformations, made great progress on the Millennium Development Goals, and posted an average GDP annual growth rate of 5% in the last decade. By such standards, much has been accomplished.
More significantly, African countries have fully come to terms with the fact that solutions to their own development challenges are to be found within and that they must own their ambitions by clearly articulating their goals.
What makes TICAD unique?
TICAD’s greatest merit lies in its foresight. Partners of this strategic forum understood very early on that beyond classic aid, and expert knowledge exchange, Africa needed a stake in charting its own development course.
TICAD’s open format facilitates the offering of solutions that are better suited to ongoing development challenges.
The two fundamental principles of TICAD – international partnership and African ownership – have been reaffirmed time and again.
Japan’s continued funding of agriculture projects through the 1990s now seems like a sage investment, especially when seen in the light of Africa’s food security and the green revolution challenges.
The sense of African ownership was again clearly demonstrated at TICAD V in 2013. The summit outcomes were already aligned with key goals of the Common African Position on the post 2015 development agenda. Its Yokohama Plan of Action underscored the need to address infrastructure challenges, including transportation corridor development, urban transportation, provision of low-carbon energy and optimization of energy use, as well as ICT infrastructure, which are almost entirely addressed under the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.
Its focus on the importance of the youth and reducing Africa’s gender gap as early as 2013, seems all the more prescient as all experts now agree on the strategic importance of addressing these challenges.
TICAD’s growing focus on partnerships with the private sector, now viewed as key partners in an era of dwindling Development Assistance, can be seen as another sign of adaptability and foresight.
Building on the discussions senior officials held in Djibouti in mid-March, the TICAD VI Preparatory Meeting at Ministerial Level will be held this week in Banjul, Gambia. The gathering is expected to firm up the programme of TICAD VI summit, and further deepen the discussion on the content of the Nairobi declaration, to be adopted at the TICAD VI
In all great endeavors, timing and placement are key. TICAD VI will mark the first time the TICAD summit is organized on African soil. Beyond the symbolism of the venue, it is also propitious as 2016 is the first year of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063.
As African economies are holding steady in the midst of a global slowdown, I am willing to bet that TICAD will continue to offer judicious policy recommendations that have made this forum the success that it is, and that it will help steer Africa on its current path and consolidate the hard-won gains of the last two decades.
This post was originally published as an op-ed in Financial Afrik Magazine. Click here to read.
For more on TICAD, please visit ticad6.net