Close to 4,000 Japanese delegates attending the sixth session of Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad)

The team led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also thrust Kenya, the gateway to Africa, on the cusp of history as the first country to host a Ticad session outside Tokyo.

The Japan before Ticad is quite obscure. Just like other African states, Kenyan firms have struggled to gain a foothold of the market which would be an alternative outlet for cut flowers, tea, coffee, nuts, fish fillets, tobacco and sisal fibres.

“There are substantial exports of cut flowers to Japan and the market has been growing over time but we can’t compare to the EU,” Dr Margate Muchui, chief executive at Fresh Produce Exporters and Association Kenya told the Business Daily.

“Exports of fruits and vegetables has however not taken off due to stringent access requirements for the Japanese market, especially the requirement to fumigate produce which makes doing business costly.”

Analysts see other challenges beyond the difficult market access rules. They reckon that a Japanese, unlike a Chinese or Indian counterpart, still conjures up an image of a European-type patronising bureaucrat.

“Africa has traditionally regarded Japan as elitist and West-like, being an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) member just like rich states of US and UK,” said University of Nairobi political Science scholar George Katete.

“China and India discovered the strategic importance of Kenya (and Africa) early enough. They have won hearts not only by providing cheaper products but also by their ‘no-string-attached’ loans.”

China and India share ‘developing country’ tag with most African states. India which was colonised by British has particularly been vocal about its common heritage with Kenya.

“Japan has maintained high quality of products that it sells in Africa but high price has locked it out of the mass market enjoyed by Indian and Chinese firms,” said Dr Katete.

Japanese investors are also unaware of Africa’s business potential.  Two months ahead of Nairobi Ticad, Kenyans in the diaspora had to organise SMEs seminar in Nagoya, the largest city in the Chubu region of Japan in May.


Original article can be found here.