This month, Japan will hold the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) VI in Nairobi, Kenya, the first of its kind in Africa since its inception in 1993.
But why so, and why now? Some claim it was Africa’s initiative. This may be true but is no more adequate an explanation than the claim that the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was a purely African initiative. He who pays the piper, as they say, always calls the tune.
In a sense, we can also say, FOCAC inspired TICAD to come to Africa in the same way that TICAD inspired FOCAC to come into being in 2000. FOCAC VI was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in December 2015. So, what does TICAD IV mean in the wider context of Sino-Japanese diplomacy in Africa?
For years Japan has sought to provide a high-level forum for consultations about African development. But one can also sense at least four overlapping theories about why TICAD came to Africa. First, it is a continuation of Japan’s strategy to contain China’s expanding influence in Africa. This began in earnest in 2014 when Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited three African countries. Second, Japan’s aim in Africa is engaging China by demonstrating that China’s behaviour in Asia could affect its interests in Africa.
The third theory views Japan’s goal as more limited in nature: access to Africa’s resources. Fourth, Japan’s interest in Africa is seen as one of garnering the continent’s support in its quest for permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council and its other global ventures.
We must not necessarily subscribe to the “containment” school in order to make three interrelated observations. Firstly, it was the growing power and influence of China in Africa (and elsewhere) and the insecurity it triggered in Japan that conditioned the relocation of TICAD VI to Africa.
With more than $220 billion, China-Africa trade hit an all-time high in 2015. Japan’s trade with Africa amounted to only $20 billion in the same period. Africa’s imports from China grew from 2 per cent in 1995 to 13 per cent in 2012. Africa’s imports from Japan fell from around 7 per cent in 1995 to 3 per cent in the same period. In 2014, 13.5 per cent of Africa’s trade was with China but only 1 per cent was with Japan.
China has also bolstered its growing economic presence in Africa with a potentially formidable soft power. The Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, wrote in 2013: “We cannot ignore China’s policy towards Africa, which is noticeably aimed at monopolising natural resources there while focusing only on China’s interest.”
The growing sentiment among Japanese business leaders is still not in favour of economic involvement in Africa in a major way. And yet a broad consensus has also emerged that Japan has to make a move without much delay. “If you wait until the security situation fully improves across Africa,” a Japanese government official said recently, “there will be no market left for you.”
The second factor behind Japan’s renewed interest in Africa is Abenomics—Prime Minister Abe’s policy of trying to restore vitality to Japan’s economy by ending its long economic slump through fiscal stimulus (such as public works packages), structural reform (such as free trade agreements), and monetary policy (manipulation of interest rates). A stable supply of energy sources, ideally from diverse places, is a prerequisite for the sustainability of Abenomics.
Third, Prime Minister Abe is arguably a most assertive leader of Japan vis-à-vis China. In January 2014, he visited three African countries amid tensions that arose between Japan and China over a host of issues. Abe’s visit took place also when China’s Foreign Minister, Mr Wang Yi, was visiting some of the same African countries.
China and Japan are at different stages of industrialisation. This also means that the two countries may compete but must not necessarily confront each other in Africa. Both countries could each contribute to Africa’s modernisation efforts if they wish to do so. They could also help themselves to Africa’s vast resources.
Everyone will benefit in this case, including Africa. All is well that ends well.
Seifudein Adem is an associate research professor of political science and associate director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, US; [email protected]