Japan grows in Africa
In 2013 Japan’s prime minister Shinzō Abe announced a whopping US$32 billion five-year support for Africa’s development projects.
Before Mr. Abe’s announcement, Japan’s many interventions in Africa were mostly under the radar, attracting little fanfare. For example, not many know that Japan’s cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) in the continent rose from US$758 million in 2000 to US$10.5 billion in 2014, according to Forbes, a US publication. Indeed, Japan was Africa’s largest Asian economic partner until 2000, when China took the lead.
By launching in 1993 the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) with the United Nations Development Program and the UN’s Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, Japan pioneered efforts by Asian countries to engage directly with African leaders.
The Chinese followed in 2000 with the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), while India joined the bandwagon in 2010 with the India-Africa Business Forum (IBF).
Often attended by a majority of African leaders, as well as investors and development experts, these gatherings have been opportunities to negotiate international trade and to attract investors and official development aid (ODA).
Japan’s decision to hold the sixth TICAD in Kenya in August, the first ever in Africa (previous conferences were all held in Japan), will likely stoke global interest in Japan-Africa relations. A prior visit to Africa by the prime minister in 2013 (with stops in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Mozambique), the first by a Japanese leader since 2005 and the first ever to a francophone country, highlighted Africa’s investment opportunities, particularly for Japanese companies.
The prime minister’s visit also triggered a scrutiny of Japan’s strategic intent and its policy towards Africa, with Stratfor, a US-based geopolitical intelligence firm, explaining that Japan is making investment forays into Africa because it is experiencing “resource insecurities” even as its “economic growth challenges have become more urgent after the 2011 disasters and nuclear shutdown.”
Unlike China’s and India’s, the majority of Japan’s flows to Africa continue to be “focused on development assistance rather than on commercial investment by Japan’s private sector,” noted Harry Broadman, director of US-based Johns Hopkins University’s Council on Global Enterprise and Emerging Markets in Baltimore, Maryland.