Traditionally, at least as far as Africa is concerned, Japan has been the steadfast rock on which Africa has been able to anchor some of its most basic aspirations. Unlike many, if not most of Africa’s global partners, the Japanese have always favoured a low-key approach. Not for them the spectacular infrastructure signatures or the headline grabbing deals; instead, they have worked diligently, steadily, very efficiently, effectively and without making a song and dance about it.
If anything, the Japanese have often been accused of being too self-deprecating, especially in the light of the in-your-face Chinese incursions into Africa and their throwing down of gauntlets on the development landscape.
This approach has sometimes led to frustration on the part of their African partners. For example, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said it was ironic that despite Japan’s long-term involvement with the continent and its good work, “Japanese investment is a far cry from the kind of huge presence it should by now have achieved compared to relative newcomers.”
In fact, in relative terms, the last TICAD summit in Yokohama in 2013 was as bright, breezy and dynamic as these events can get and was widely regarded as setting a new dynamic for the event.
This was the largest international conference ever hosted by Japan. There were at least 4,500 participants. This included representatives from 51 African countries, 39 heads of state and government, 35 development partners and Asian countries, representatives of 74 international and regional organisations and private sector, civil society and NGO representatives. Also in attendance were Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, Dr Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, Helen Clark, the administrator of UNDP and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU Commission.
TICAD V also marked a significant departure from earlier events: it coincided with two vitally important and still unfolding developments – an increasingly confident Africa riding the crest of an unprecedented period of growth; and Japan’s muscular new thrust to restore its economic vibrancy and regain its position as one of the two most powerful economies in the world.
During the event, African leaders and analysts were perfectly aware that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was not only grappling with an economic downturn that seemed to be sucking all the creative energies out of the body politic, he was fighting for his own political career. The “three arrows” of his “Abenomics” strategy seemed a last, desperate attempt to inject vitality into the sagging economy.
It was therefore instructive for those of us from Africa to watch closely as one of the world’s great economic powers began to pull itself up by its bootstraps and slowly shrug off the devastating impact of the tsunami that had caused so much physical and psychological damage.
Despite having to fire-fight on various internal economic and political fronts, Abe made it a point to attend both days of the summit and to meet, individually, each African head of state or government. This underlined better than any other rhetorical evocation could have, the value that Japan places on its long-term relationship with Africa and makes nonsense of the idea that Japan’s primary interest in Africa is confined to garnering support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council or purely for energy related issues. “Africa is bursting with confidence while we are finding ours,” Abe said. Together we can achieve great things.”
The Japanese are not given to hyperbole or pretty slogans. It was clear that Abe’s pronouncements had the full backing of the country’s planners and had been carefully thought out in full cooperation with African countries.
Africa’s priorities have undergone a dramatic change. While a number of the weaker African economies still need aid to keep afloat, many more are demanding a bigger share of global trade, more value addition to their natural resources and partners who will share their technical and managerial skills with them to enable them to move to the next logical step in their development – full-scale industrialisation.
It was with this in mind that a good deal of time, thought and energy was invested in the preparation of the event. For the first time in the event’s history, the African Union Commission was fully involved in drawing up the agenda. Other co-organisers were the World Bank and UNDP, but essentially TICAD V was a joint-venture between the AU Commission and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the pre-planning, African countries were consulted on what they considered their most urgent requirements. Infrastructure development, enhanced human capacity – particularly in business and industry – health and agriculture topped the list
The working title of the conference was “Hand in hand with a more dynamic Africa”. As the conference unfolded, it became clear that, from the Japanese side at least, the theme literally meant what it said – a partnership for mutual benefit. The title of one of the Abe’s later speeches was “Together with Africa, Japan will prosper; together with Japan, Africa will thrive”.
The net result of all these considerations was one of the biggest single assistance packages ever made by an individual country to Africa – a colossal $32bn over five years.
The segmentation of the package clearly indicates the priorities of both parties: $14bn was earmarked for ODA; $16bn consisted of public and private resources and the government would underwrite $2bn of trade insurance to encourage the more diffident companies to dip their toes in the rising African waters.
The package was designed to deliver three major outcomes: robust and sustainable economies, inclusive and resilient societies and peace and stability.
These, in a nutshell, encapsulate all the conditions required for sustainable growth – “inclusive growth” refers to a much wider distribution of national wealth to avoid marginalisation of large pockets of the population which almost always leads to social strife; “resilient societies” are societies that can adapt to changing conditions and have the wherewithal, such as education, and social cohesion to overcome crisis and peace and stability are essential for any kind of growth and investment, foreign or domestic.
It was the business end of the package, worth $16bn, that created the most excitement both in Africa as well as the private sector in Japan. This was more than a gentle push to get the Japanese private sector to engage more robustly in Africa – it was a shove in that direction. “What Africa needs now,” Abe said, “is private sector investment. If we recognise this as a new reality, then it will be necessary to revolutionise the way of providing assistance to Africa.”
Give private sector priority
There were two other far reaching decisions that were made in Yokohama – one was to increase the frequency of each summit and hold it every three years (down from five) and the second was to alternate the venue between Japan and an African country.
This is clearly in response to calls from African representatives that they would like greater ownership of the event. TICAD VI in Nairobi will be a test case and it will be interesting to see how many heads of state and government turn up for the event.
A few delegations I met in Yokohama said that a good part of the attraction of TICAD had been the opportunity to visit Japan and see how the country and its private sector worked in situ. Will Nairobi hold the same attraction for African delegations, especially if Shinzo Abe himself does not attend?
The Kenyan government is confident that a full complement of African leaders will turn up. Kenya seems to have a special place in Japanese sentiment. As President Uhuru Kenyatta points out: “It is a relationship that goes back to the 1920s, with Japan opening its first consulate in our coastal city of Mombasa way back in 1932”.
Kenya is also the largest recipient of Japanese ODA, cumulatively at around $5.3bn and at least 16 important projects in the country are receiving Japanese funding. Kenya has also become a major importer of second-hand Japanese cars, which meet the country’s age and emission standards and are right-hand drive as standard.
TICAD VI is being organised by the government of Japan, the African Union Commission, the World Bank, the UNDP, the UN Office of Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and the government of Kenya. In other words, much more than Japan–Africa, this is a summit to calibrate Japanese engagement around Africa’s global agenda.
Dr Amina Mohamed, cabinet secretary for foreign affairs and international trade in the government of Kenya, has announced that for the first time there will be an interactive session between Heads of State and the private sector.
This is a critical aspect of the summit. While everybody talks about the private sector as the engine of economic growth, the sector itself is often pushed to the sidelines with only a top echelon given the space and time to articulate the needs and concerns of the private sector.
It is absolutely essential that the private sector gets all the cooperation it requires, whether this is in securing exhibition space for their products and services, access to the top layers of government decision making bodies or suitable venues for them to meet and discuss ventures.
Resolutions and implementation
Far too often, major events like these are dominated by large continental themes which are fine as theories but very short of practical implementation. Thus we end up with resolutions and declarations and virtually zero implementation.
It is understandable that with TICAD VI coinciding with the first implementation year of both the 2030 SDG and Agenda 2063, continental organisations and experts be given their fair share crack of the whip and place in the sun but at the end of the day, real development that creates jobs and wealth comes from the activities of private sector and these must be given priority.
Kenya has an enviable track record of staging some of the largest and most complex global events and we have little doubt that TICAD VI will be a huge success.
A host of organisations will no doubt fill the venue with their own side-events and this is to be applauded as it is likely to generate precisely the kind of dynamism that such events are supposed to provide.
But for once, it will be refreshing if the analysts, theoreticians and think-tanks were to cede pride of place for the more practical implementers to take centre stage.
After all, Japan rose from the ashes of its Second World War defeat to become one of the world’s three strongest economies by applying a soupçon of theory to a lot of practicality.