Japan steps up bid to woo Africa
NAIROBI — For many years, the motorcycles on the streets of Dar es Salaam were almost exclusively Japanese. Now, it is hard to find a Japanese model and most are at least five years old.
“They’re being driven out by the Chinese,” said Caroline Mwazapi, a resident of Tanzania’s commercial capital.
“The Chinese bikes are often less than half the price, but people don’t mind if they don’t last as long. They’ll just buy another and still save money.”
Such trends are largely the result of Beijing’s aggressive approach to capturing African markets by flooding the continent with affordable goods. But Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, is hoping that Japanese corporates will shake up Africa’s trade dynamics as Tokyo goes on a new charm offensive with the continent.
Abe arrived in Nairobi last week accompanied by 75 business leaders to launch the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad), Japan’s premier African investment initiative held on the continent for the first time.
“Japan will work hand in hand with Africa to realise the African dream,” Abe said. “This is exactly what Ticad is all about,” he said.
Japanese officials acknowledge that emerging economies such as India and Turkey, as well as China, have been more proactive in building business ties with Africa. Tokyo’s engagement with the continent has traditionally been aid-led, and health and peacekeeping will be on Ticad’s agenda. But its investment has been relatively limited, focusing on infrastructure and consumer goods. Japanese investment into Africa declined from $17bn in 2014 to $14bn in 2015, according to the African Development Bank.
Tomohiko Taniguchi, an adviser to Japan’s government, said the number of top Japanese executives at the Africa conference was “testament that, finally, otherwise risk-averse Japanese companies have final- ly come to be aware that Africa can provide them with real growth opportunities.
“For a long time, Africa meant little for Japan economically, but a lot for Tokyo to showcase its commitment in universally shared value.”
Dating back to 1993, the Ticad conferences were held every five years in Japan. In contrast, China — Africa’s biggest trading partner — holds its equivalent event every three years and rotates it between China and Africa.
The conference comes as many African nations face their toughest economic challenges in years. The IMF forecasts that sub-saharan Africa’s growth will dip to 1.6% in 2016, from 3.5% in 2015. As a result, much attention will be paid to the amount of money Japan pledges at its conference. At the most recent one, in 2013, Tokyo committed $32bn. This compares with $60bn that Beijing promised at its Africa conference in December.
Japanese officials insist they are not competing with other Asian economies or western countries for African pre-eminence. “It’s synergy rather than competition or a race,” said Yasuhisa Kawamura, Japan’s foreign ministry spokesman.
“China is one of the most enthusiastic investors in Africa and as a leading partner, we share their experience and learn from each other.”
Both the Chinese and Japanese stress their relations with Africa are all about developing beneficial partnerships. But China poured scorn on Ticad.
The overseas version of the People’s Daily, the Communist party newspaper, wrote an editorial accusing Japan of wooing Africa to secure support for its campaign to win a UN Security Council seat, a move Beijing opposes. — FT
african leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo abe of Japan in a group photo on Saturday during the 6th tokyo International Conference on african Development.