09_G15_InBox

Global Issue 15

Inbox OUT OF AFRICA Anver Versi Japan and Africa: the start of a beautiful friendship? Over the last decade or so, while China was leading the Asian scramble into Africa, its strongest rival, Japan, stood on the sidelines watching the unseemly grab for Africa’s resources with haughty disdain. Not any longer. Japan is now poised to wade in and take on all comers. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, laid down the gauntlet during the fi fth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in Yokohama early in June. He was in the midst of fi ring his ‘three arrows’ – aimed at reviving the faltering Japanese economy and injecting both consumer and stock market confi - dence – while the conference was taking place. Yet, to underline the weight he put on the conference and Japan’s new policy towards Africa, he made the time to be present on all three days of the meeting and met with each of the 39 African Heads of State or Government who had attended. It was the biggest international conference ever hosted by Japan and no effort was spared to convince the 4,500 participants that Japan and Africa were now ‘comanagers’ of the new deal (see Shinzo Abe interview pages 30-35). For the fi rst time in the event’s 20 year history, the African Union Commission was fully engaged in drawing up the agenda of the meeting and laying out Africa’s wish list before the Japanese. While Japanese aid to Africa over the years has been both generous and noble – in that it was provided without any commercial ties – what Africa now wants is more trade, investment and skills transfers. In particular, the continent wants considerably more support for major infrastructure projects, such as road and rail links to connect landlocked countries to the coast. It also wants better agricultural models, support for health care and – crucially – from Japan it wants its system of ‘incubating’ individuals and companies abroad into the world-beating industrial production models. The Japanese delivered on all fronts. Abe announced a whopping US$32 billion assistance package – $14 billion offi cial development assistance (ODA) and the rest to be made up of ‘public and private resources’, which will certainly go to support Japanese companies, and a $2 billion insurance cover for Japanese companies. He also announced the ABE Initiative (African Business While Japanese aid to Africa over the years has been both generous and noble, what Africa now wants is more trade, investment and skills transfers Education) under which 1,000 African students will receive undergraduate and graduate education in Japan and mentoring with Japanese fi rms. Japanese agencies like JICA will provide a further 30,000 individuals on the ground with ‘business savvy’ training. The aim is to ensure that a body of skilled technicians will be available for Japanese companies when they make their march into the continent and take on the Europeans, the Chinese and other Asian tigers. There is also the distinct possibility that some Japanese companies will move their production facilities to Africa. If this happens, it will be the answer to the prayers of many progressive African economies. What does Japan want from Africa? First, it wants large quantities of natural gas and oil to make up the energy shortfall caused by closing down all but two of its 50 nuclear reactors; second, it wants a chunk of the African consumer pie; third, it want more infrastructure contracts: and, fi nally, it wants Africa’s support in its bid to stage the 2020 Olympics. In the past, Africans have complained that the Japanese have not been as engaged in the continent as they would have wished for; now they can expect engagement in spades. This could be the start of a very beautiful friendship. Anver Versi is the editor of London-based African Business and African Banker magazines global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 9


Global Issue 15
To see the actual publication please follow the link above