Jun 4 (GIN) – Since the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan in 2011, the Asian tiger has faced an unprecedented energy crisis, prompting it to reach out to African nations where some of the world’s richest wells of oil and gas have been found.

This month, at the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new initiative to provide 3.2 trillion yen ($32 billion) in financial assistance over the next five years to Japanese firms investing in African rare-earth mineral mining, and oil and natural gas development.

Under the new pact, Japan will invite a thousand people from Africa to study and work as interns at Japanese companies and Tokyo will work to find jobs for 30,000 people in Africa.

“Japan will also construct hubs for human resource development in Ethiopia and Senegal, among 10 regions. We will send experts in vocational training to these hubs,” Prime Minister Abe said.

The five-year aid package includes $14 billion in official development assistance and $1 billion in aid for economic development and humanitarian efforts, including about $1 billion to help stabilize the Sahel region, where al-Qaeda-linked militants have gained a foothold, plus training of some 2,000 people in counter-terrorism activities.

The gathering brought together delegations from 51 African nations as well as representatives from the United Nations and World Bank.

“Africa will be a growth centre over the next couple of decades until the middle of this century… now is the time for us to invest in Africa,” Mr Abe said at the end of the conference co-hosted with the African Union (AU), World Bank and UN.

Some projects, however, have run into local opposition. In Malawi, for example, residents of the Mulanje Mountain area, fearing environmental damage, filed an injunction to halt Spring Stone, a joint venture of the Canadian Gold Canyon Resources and Japan’s Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp.

“Pine trees on 800 hectares have been destroyed and the company has drilled deep holes on the mountain, resulting in pollution,” noted the Mulanje Concerned Citizens group in their suit. Mulanje Mountain is a well-known tourist destination because of its rare vegetation and steep cliffs which draw hikers.

But on May 3, Malawi’s high court overturned the injunction and said exploratory drilling could go forward.