Congolese technical 'students' in the classroom in Dakar
It is one of Africa's largest, and potentially richest countries. But decades of autocratic rule and civil conflict left much of the country in ruins.
In recent years, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has placed a high priority educating a cadre of professional experts and technicians to help revitalize and expand a shattered economy.
But the task is a daunting one. Technicians in just one arm of industry, electro and mechanical engineering, are vital to the task of economic regeneration but there are only a handful of such skilled workers in the entire country.
Jean Louis Ngongo, a member of the once prestigious National Institute of Professional Preparation (INPP) estimated recently: "There are maybe 200 in the whole of Congo. We have either no equipment at all or very old equipment. There has hardly been any training for years."
Recently, however, Ngongo and 15 other colleagues began a training course at the Vocational and Technical Training Center (CFPT) in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
JICA has played an important role in all aspects of the project which is one example of the increasing importance of so-called south-south cooperation between developing countries and triangular cooperation involving the combined efforts of three states.
Listening closely to their Senegalese instructor
Japan provided technical cooperation to INPP from 1986-1991 and, responding to a recent government request, JICA agreed to underwrite the current training of the Congolese technicians.
Japanese grant aid and technical assistance had also helped establish the Senegalese vocational center CFPT in 1984 and that institution has now developed into one of the most important training centers for French-speaking countries in West Africa.
The Congolese are only one of several groups of 'students' who undergo training each year in a variety of similar skills at the Dakar facility. According to director Ousseynou Gueye the center has a capacity of 700 trainees drawn from 15 regional countries and has graduated hundreds of students.
In addition to teaching technical skills the center also encourages graduates to begin their own small businesses and obtain financing from local banks.
The Congolese will return to Senegal for further training in July and at home they will help form the nucleus of experienced teachers at the INPP center who in turn will help train younger generations of technicians who will be vital to the country's economic health.