Greetings to you all.
I arrived in Addis Ababa and started my assignment as the Chief Representative of JICA Ethiopia Office in January 2021.
This is my second overseas assignment in Africa. I worked in the Republic of Uganda from 2002 to 2005, and during that period, I had many chances to visit its neighboring countries including Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. Being in my late 20s and experiencing an overseas assignment for the first time in my professional carrier, I was very fascinated by Africa's dynamism as well as its people's generosity, cheerfulness, and richness in thought and culture. Since then, I always hoped to return to Africa. I am so glad that my wish finally came true, after having waited for more than 15 years.
Ethiopia has many development challenges, but it also has great potential and opportunities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, it was one of the fastest growing economies in the world - its annual growth rate averaged about 10% over the last decade, and its real GDP increased fivefold in 20 years. The Government of Ethiopia has been undertaking a series of economic reforms with the aim of becoming a middle-income country by 2025. There has also been a steady progress in terms of improving access to and quality of basic social services such as education, health, and water and sanitation. As a result, the share of population living below the absolute poverty line defined by the government decreased dramatically in the last 25 years, from 45.5% in 1995 to 19.0% in 2020 (World Bank). The government is committed to continue its efforts to further promote its socio-economic development to "leave no one behind," as stated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.
JICA has been supporting the Government of Ethiopia's efforts to realize "Quality Growth"; which is defined as a growth that is inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. As a result, JICA focuses on the following four priority areas: (1) agricultural and rural development, (2) industrial development, (3) infrastructure development (energy, transportation, and water), and (4) education and health. Within these sectors, we have been trying to focus on the areas where Japan has a comparative advantage. Our cooperation to enhance productivity in rice production is a typical example. Another example is to promote the concept of KAIZEN (a Japanese word that refers to continuous improvement of working practices and efficiency on the ground, a business philosophy widely adopted among Japanese firms) to enhance productivity and competitiveness particularly in the manufacturing sector. Support for small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as entrepreneurs, geothermal power generation, and mathematics and science education are also good cases in point. By combining these cooperations, we are trying to contribute not only to addressing development challenges within each sector but also to achieving higher policy objectives set by the Ethiopian government including job creation, poverty reduction, mitigation of external imbalances through promotion of export as well as import substitution, and building resilience against climate change.
JICA has traditionally embraced the concept of "self-help" and "ownership" of partner countries, and our cooperation in Ethiopia is no exception. This philosophy comes from Japan's own experience of development. Japan is the first country of non-Western origin that had successfully become a developed country while preserving most of its traditional values and cultures. We learned a lot from the Western countries in the process of such development, but we never simply copied and pasted their systems. Rather, we always modified them to fit the context of our own society. Based on this experience, we strongly believe that this process of adaptation based on country ownership is very important for development. This is why JICA is equipped with instruments not only for financial cooperation but also for technical cooperation, which allows us to engage deeply with our Ethiopian counterparts to go through this important process together as a partner. I hope that our holistic approach combining financial and technical cooperation based on the respect for the concept of ownership and partnership will continue to support socio-economic development of Ethiopia in a way that fits the Ethiopian context.
The JICA Ethiopia Office is also responsible for strengthening partnership with the African Union (AU). The AU is one of the largest regional organizations and holds an indispensable role in promoting the development and integration of the continent. The AU is also a co-organizer of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), the process that the Government of Japan has been promoting since 1993. JICA has been collaborating with the AU to support their initiatives in various fields such as infectious disease control, science and technology education, and infrastructure development. This Office will continue to play an active role in shaping JICA's cooperation strategy toward the African continent as a whole through further promoting dialogues and collaborations with the AU.
I arrived in Addis Ababa during a challenging and critical moment for Ethiopia and Africa.
Now, the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all aspects of our lives throughout the world, and we are in the process of searching for ways to adopt to the "new normal." Also, the Ethiopian government has recently formulated its new development plan covering the next 10-year period and is undertaking important political and economic reforms. Additionally, the AU has embarked on a very important stage of regional integration by launching the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) starting January 2021. I look forward to working with all the stakeholders to make sure that JICA remains relevant and valuable for the development of Ethiopia and the African continent in this rapidly evolving environment.
I would appreciate your kind understanding and support for our activities.
MORIHIRA Katsuki, Ph.D.
JICA Ethiopia Office