14.09.2022 Author: Oleg Pavlov

Japan in Africa


On August 27-28, a conference organized by Tokyo and conceived as a Japan-Africa summit was held in Tunis. The intention was big: to hold the eighth edition of the event called TICAD (held since 1993) in such a way as to declare Japan’s significant activism in dealing with the development problems of the African continent.

And at first, expectations of the event were fulfilled. More than 30 African countries had announced that they would be taking part at head of state and government level, lavish speeches were prepared, talks with the Japanese Prime Minister as well as the award ceremony of the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize were planned, and a business forum with Japanese business representatives was organized.

However, something went “wrong” from the start. At the very last moment, Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Prime Minister, withdrew from the forum on the pretext that he was ill with COVID (he spoke only via video call) and was replaced by Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who took part in person in the second and third plenary sessions in the North African country. Immediately the pomp and importance of the event dropped, and some of the heads of state who had not arrived in Tunis before the announcement of the Prime Minister’s illness refused to attend.

The conference itself was marred by scandal because of the attendance by a delegation from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which Morocco categorically does not recognize, considering Western Sahara part of its territory. It is clear that the hosts did this as a curtsey towards their powerful neighbor Algeria, which supports the SADR, but it was taken as an insult by the Moroccans.

On the whole, the event was rather unsatisfying because of this, but calling it absolutely pointless would be a stretch. Japan announced an extensive aid program aimed at overcoming the consequences of COVID-19 and preventing outbreaks of epidemics on the continent, tackling environmental problems, improving Africa’s investment climate, ensuring sustainable development, supporting socially-oriented businesses, and solving food problems.

Japan further announced that over the next three years it would allocate a considerable $30 billion from public and private funds for Africa’s development. A $4 billion “Japanese Green Growth Initiative with Africa” is to be launched to improve the quality of life. The establishment of a “start-up investment fund” of more than $100 million, provided by the Japanese businesses to support young entrepreneurs, was announced.

Human development is envisaged through the education of 300,000 professionals who will build Africa’s future.

The private sector is expected to receive up to $5 billion in support from the African Development Bank. Japan will make a new contribution of up to $1.08 billion to the Global Fund to fight infectious diseases, and $300 million will be allocated to agricultural productivity programs, including training of 200,000 professionals. As a cherry on top, $130 million in food aid was announced.

African leaders also noted their interest in Japan’s New Approach to Peace and Stability in Africa (NAPSA).

It was noticeable that compared to TICAD-7 (2019), there were fewer sessions, participants and the scope of the event itself, education and culture issues were not presented separately and the issue of migration was not raised.

Japan seems to have drawn some conclusions from the failed 2019 event riddled with outright complaints about the ineffectiveness of Japanese policy on the continent made to Tokyo by the Africans. As a result, this year’s event looked very solid on the surface.

On the sidelines of the conference, the Japanese Foreign Minister met with representatives of 21 countries, mostly leaning towards the Western camp, with the possible exception of Eritrea and Uganda. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister spoke by video call with the heads of nine states, also close to the Western bloc, although leaning towards centrism and a neutral position on the most pressing issue at the moment – the crisis around Ukraine – as well as with the chairman of the African Union Commission.

The bottom line is that a total of 38 countries participated, which is not bad, although 19 of them were represented only by ministers. Nine regional organizations were also represented, indicating full coverage of the African integration alliances. According to the only document adopted, the Tunis Declaration, the next summit meeting will take place in 2025 and will be preceded by a ministerial meeting in 2024.

In other words, Japan, at the behest of its overseas masters, has joined the Western bloc’s race for position in Africa and to oust China and Russia from it. It is far from certain that all the sweeping promises of Tokyo’s financial injections into the African continent will be honored. Experience suggests that a great many Western projects in Africa fail to come to fruition, even though the “swing” can be very big, as was the case at the relative recent EU-Africa conference. The Africans themselves are well aware of this, but are committed to attracting as much investment as possible, whatever the source.

The conclusion for Russia is that the conference participants failed to adopt anti-Russian positions, as evidenced by the text of the Tunis Declaration. But competition on the continent is getting fiercer and the West is becoming more and more aggressive, actively involving its “spoilers,” a term that can justifiably be applied to Japan.

Oleg Pavlov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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