The Yomiuri ShimbunJapan must make efforts to deepen cooperation and build a mutually beneficial relationship with rapidly growing Africa. The public and private sectors need to work together to tackle this strategically.
The seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which brings together the leaders of Japan and Africa every three years, was held in Yokohama. It adopted the Yokohama Declaration, which centers on expanding both Japanese companies’ business in Africa and private investment in the region.
With a population of 1.3 billion, Africa is blessed with natural gas and mineral resources. In recent years, many countries in the region have achieved remarkable growth by taking advantage of the internet and other technological innovations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed, “We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa.” It seems reasonable that Japan’s diplomatic focus regarding Africa has shifted from official aid to the promotion of investment and trade by the private sector.
There is no denying that Japan is lagging. Japan’s direct investment stock in Africa stands at $7.8 billion (about ¥830 billion), placing it outside the top 10 list. This is because Japanese entities have kept their distance due to political uncertainty and other factors.
As part of TICAD, a business dialogue session was held, in which people in the Japanese and African business communities, among others, participated. Those on the African side repeatedly expressed the hope that Japanese companies would proactively move into Africa, saying that they wanted Japan to play a leading role in the region, among other things.
Cater support to needs
Expectations are high for Japanese companies’ high technological capabilities and generous services.
The government set up a public-private business council in June to collect information on African companies and link them with Japanese companies. It will also consider expanding trade insurance to cover incurred losses.
It is essential to work with the governments of partner countries to develop legal regulations and financial systems for investment.
It is also crucial to nurture young people in Africa who can play a leading role. The government plans to accept 3,000 people from the continent at graduate schools and companies over the next six years. It hopes that these people will serve as a bridge between Japan and Africa in the future.
China, which is pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative to create a huge economic zone, is also increasing its presence in Africa. There are 3,700 Chinese companies doing business in Africa — four times the number of Japanese companies operating there.
There are glaring examples of countries that receive assistance from China falling into excess debt. Abe has announced a plan to send experts to developing countries to help them manage their debt. It is important to proceed with the plan steadily.
What must not be forgotten is that Japan should provide detailed assistance that is suited to each country’s stage of development.
Many of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.90 a day. Many countries are suffering from food shortages due to unstable governance.
Japan is urged to cooperate with international and nongovernmental organizations to continuously support efforts such as enhancing water management, improving sanitation and preventing infectious diseases.