Ja­pan steps up bid to woo Africa

Lesotho Times - - 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.

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