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Japanese and UK development aid: Why diversity amongst donors is beneficial

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:15


Professor Izumi Ohno - National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo

Professor Kenichi Ohno - National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo


Max Everest-Phillips - Senior Governance Advisor, Growth and Investment Group, DFID (TBC)

Fletcher Tembo - Research Fellow, Research and Policy in Development (RAPID), ODI

David Booth - Research Fellow, Poverty and Public Policy Group (PPPG), ODI


Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI

Japan- UK Aid Partnership for 2008 and beyond
Speaker: Professor Izumi Ohno

GRIPS is launching the book “Diversity and Complementarity in Development Aid” which links Japan and the UK in assisting with development in Japan. The GRIPS Development Forum (GDF) was launched in 2002 as a research unit dedicated to policy studies and networking in the area of international development and aid.  2008 is seen as the “Year of Destiny” of Japan’s Aid with TICAD IV, the G8 Summit, OECD High Level Forum on Aid effectiveness, the establishment of the new JICA and the UN Conference on Finance for Development (Doha) all taking place. These will be excellent opportunities to demonstrate Japan’s renewed commitment to aid and share its development visions.

GRIPS has observed the following:

  • Japan’s promise of doubling ODA to Africa at the 2005 Gleneagles Summit is likely to be achieved if debt relief is also included.
  • Political inertia continues. Japan’s vision for future ODA strategy and volume for Africa remains unclear
  • There is modest public interest in the African agenda in Japan.
  • Concerns expressed by African Diplomat Corps in Tokyo, academia, CSOs, etc
  • Japan 2008 G8 NGO Forum, intensifying advocacy efforts and preparing common platform.

One of the GDF initiatives for 2008 is the Japan-UK Aid Partnership Report, which is an ODA policy report which was published in February 2008. It serves as the conceptual basis for the Japan-UK partnership. Independent research initiatives by GDF, in collaboration with the interested parties in the UK, are being carried out.

The key concept of the book being launched at the meeting is the Japan-UK Aid partnership. It discusses donor collaboration based on the principle of Diversity and Complementarity and highlights arguments for strategic and instrumental diversity. There have been large swings in development vision in the past decades and the book looks at the comparative advantages of donors, discussing whether global convergence to a single idea or approach is desirable. It also discusses the fact that different strengths and weaknesses are offered by each donor and that donor diversity is likely to increase in future, therefore it is important to seek an inclusive approach to enhance combined aid effectiveness.

Professor Ohno briefly outlined the distribution of sector allocable ODA to low income countries and Sub-Saharan Africa and also gave examples of the use of the concept of non-fungibility of ideas, such as the debate over transition strategy in the early 1990s and how some East Asian countries took advantage of non-fungibility of policy ideas to develop their economies.

Japan and the UK are seen to be very different types of donors. Japan’s dual identity as a donor and as a latecomer explains their growth aspiration and their real sector concern. DFID is widely seen as effectively leading global development debates and as having a coherent and organised approach to aid delivery. The Japanese are pragmatic, good at field based study and employ concrete thinking but are not as good at articulating policy, whereas the British are considered to be good at designing policy frameworks and institutional architecture with a strong drive for innovative approaches.

Professor Ohno concluded by explaining the importance of the Japan-UK Aid partnership taking place now. Japan and the UK are important players in the donor community and as they are both so different, there is great potential for productive cooperation. The two partners can also make important contributions to engaging Asian “emerging donors” in supporting African development.

East Asian Growth Regime and Political Development
Speaker: Professor Kenichi Ohno

Professor Kenichi Ohno continued the meeting with discussion on growth policy formulation and whether East Asia can teach anything to Africa. East Asia covers a very diverse area of low income and high income areas and the different countries which constitute this group have grown and developed at different rates. There are two main problems for low achieving countries in catching up with US income and these are policy quality and private sector dynamism.

Professor Kenichi Ohno spoke of the wrong lessons that have been learnt from East Asia such as the mindless copying of policy which was seen in the 1960s in Korea and Japan, and it is also wrong to think that a strong government should direct private sector activities and the mistaken belief that an authoritarian state is needed for development which was thought in the 1970s. Lessons should be at a methodology level and not concrete measures to be copied by countries. It should be highlighted that East Asia’s development and aid strategies and western donor’s strategies are very different.

East Asia is very interested in economic prosperity and national pride, and not so much in poverty reduction. General lessons to be learnt from the Eastern way of making policies are:

  • There must be political will and national obsession to become prosperous. If this obsession doesn’t exist, the progress will be impossible. Its not just ownership in the narrow sense- a much bigger concept that the country want to be like Japan or Malaysia for example.
  • Growth policies (investment, technology etc) and social policies (traffic issues, income gap, the environment). Growth policies should be pursued first and then social policies dealt with separately.
  • Vision, goals and action plans
  • Field based pragmatism and attention to detail.
  • Must be a continual process of setting goals and action plans.

East Asia is not so much going to teach about specific issues instead the emphasis should be put on actual policy formulation.

As mentioned by Izumi Ohno, Japan is not considered to be good at articulating ideas and does not avail of policy manuals or policy matrix therefore it is difficult to come up with immediate answers or solutions to issues. There is a lot of emphasis on doing field work in Japan but the Japanese are not particularly good at writing reports. There is a saying in Japan that quiet action is better than lots of talking but of course sometimes you have to do a lot of talking when you are communicating with different cultures. All of which can make it hard to convey the Eastern way of doing things.

Prof. Ohno then went on to discuss the proposal for Japan’s new aid in Africa explaining how committees, study groups, universities and civil organisations must surround and pressure the Japanese government to get things done and to make things happen. Japan should concentrate additional aid on a few African countries where the leaders are willing to try the eastern way and where there is a minimum social and macroeconomic stability. There must also be a sufficient administrative mechanism in place. If a country is suffering from civil conflict then it will be impossible to work with them.

The general idea that GRIPS and these associated groups want to promote is that having initial policy dialogue for formulating concrete growth strategies is very important. It is especially necessary in African countries so as to convey what is thought as the best way to formulate policies. Also the private sector and other donors should be involved.  

GRIPS and other such groups in Japan (not the government) are producing many things such as the previously mentioned GRIPS’s book, the ODA Manifesto, MOFA report and the JICA-JBIC report. Prof Ohno very briefly outlined the content of these reports. Japan has dialogue with many East Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia, all of which have also produced similar types of reports. The Professor’s closing point was whether this sort of development can be replicated in Africa. He mentioned how JICA have an ongoing programme from 2006-2009 with Zambia and how Zambia have asked Japan to help them develop a long term industrial strategy.

Fletcher Tembo mentioned one of the key projects he is working on which is how to strengthen Southern civil society and think tank capacity to influence policy using research based evidence. There are lots of good researchers out there, but the reports they are writing do not feed into policy processes. Mr Tembo is working with CSOs and various think tanks from 6 countries, and they are looking at Japan G8 as a global project.

He commented on how the idea of diversity and complementarity in development aid is very plausible but that in a certain way it is just bringing into the open what the donors have been doing all along. Attention also needs to be paid to the other G8 donors, besides the UK and Japan, and emerging donors and what they are like and what they can bring to the table. When this is seen from a developing country level, geopolitical considerations come out quite strongly, as do the ways in which countries chose donors. The role of financial institutions is also important to consider, especially their influence and intellectual capital as was evident in the launch and implementation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). Mr Tembo concluded by mentioning about the importance of engaging civil society and how Japan has to move better into a decentralisation mode to help countries to be able to make decisions more quickly because country processes are complex and demand flexibility and risk taking. He also briefly mentioned Kenichi Ohno’s  idea of the Flying Geese concept – the way that countries cascade in the way they trade with each other in Asia and how such an idea could be explored in Africa. The regional trade arrangements in Africa are just a combination of various arrangements that do not strengthen each other systematically.

David Booth focused on how the diversity of approach amongst donors is beneficial and that the division of labour amongst donors should imply diversity in the use of aid instruments. He believes that diversity is not necessarily a bad idea as it gives a break from the political correctness surrounding the Paris Declaration and does consist of some meaty ideas which draw on experience. However, what he believes would make it a very good idea is if there was a real diversity in aid instruments.  The development of infrastructure is different from providing social services and therefore requires different instruments. Mr Booth is currently looking at political restraints on growth options.

Question and Answer Session:

There are different ways of strengthening industrial development and balance between the two different approaches. There are different ways of thinking about economic growth. One is to provide a good investment climate and the other is a more interventionist approach. Government capacity is needed for this to work, and it might not be available in each country.  The effectiveness of Aid debate – is there anything to be said on whether Japanese aid is more effective than UK aid. Do we know which one works best?  The professors felt that Japan and the UK should overcome the psychology of differences between the two countries and should work together.

You say obsession is needed by the Government. How do you make a government obsessive? To get a government to be obsessive, there needs to be policy quality – Leadership is very important, both for economic reasons and for general strength. It is very difficult to generate that kind of leader. This is a dimension that needs to be studied in more depth to help to bring a country into prosperity.

When Professor Kenichi Ohno described Japanese development dialogue with Asian countries, he did not mention Myanmar. Japanese donors are active in Burma so there may be something to learn from that as Burma is similar to some African countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone. With regards to Burma, JICA did have a project running there, but it failed due to the secrecy and constraints imposed on them. There were a lot of political complications. As soon as the political system changes in Burma, they think Japan will start a similar mission again.

Simon Maxwell as chair, felt that he could not let anyone away with the vision of UK aid being perfectly correct. He highlighted one of the audience’s comments on how there are there certain kinds of activity where one country’s approach should be emphasised over the other country’s. Japan should lead us to some sort of synthesis between the 2 approaches and then we will celebrate what they contribute if they celebrate what we contribute and then we can actually work together.


Japan and the UK are perceived as donors who have differing approaches to development. The UK is typically perceived as a donor that is engaged with high-level, 'big picture' issues such as aid architecture, an approach which could be described as a 'framework approach'. Japan, on the other hand, places more emphasis on local interventions and issues, so is perceived as favouring what could be described as a 'bottom-up' approach. Rather than being incompatible however, could these two approaches work in tandem for the benefit of aid recipients?

A new book to be published shortly by the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, and to be launched at this event, proposes a new development paradigm that takes advantage of diversity amongst both donors and developing countries, with the aim of building complementarity rather than encouraging donors to converge around similar development strategies and aid instruments.

At this ODI event, different donor approaches will be discussed and their potential for complementarity debated. In addition, the question of whether lessons from the Asian growth experience can be applied to sub-Saharan Africa will be examined. The discussants will draw on various donor and developing country case studies in an attempt to draw out key lessons for the international development agenda in 2008 and beyond, and in particular for TICAD IV and the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit.