By Faith Mabera for Daily Maverick
As the Seventh Tokyo International Conference (TICAD7) got under way in Yokohama on 28 and 29 August, stakeholders looked to strengthen the longest-running forum on African development.
The first TICAD Summit was held in 1993, positioning Japan as a strategic development partner for Africa in the post-Cold War era, which saw a relative decline in bilateral aid to African countries. In the course of 25 years, TICAD has evolved as a pivotal multilateral framework promoting policy dialogue and partnership for Africa’s economic transformation.
TICAD is co-organised by the Government of Japan, the United Nation, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa and the African Union Commission. TICAD partners include international organisations, regional organisations such as the AU regional Economic Communities (RECs), the African Union Development Agency (AUDA), the private sector, and civil society organisations.
Japan pursues two major approaches to guide its relations with African countries – quality growth (inclusiveness, sustainability, and resilience) and human security (capacity building and human resource development). TICAD’s approaches also emphasise the principles of African ownership and international partnership, inclusivity, openness and a commitment to the implementation and follow-up of measures and outcomes.
The 2019 TICAD7 is held under the theme of “Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation” under the three pillars of: (i) accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through innovation and private sector engagement; (ii) strengthening sustainable and resilient society with a focus on health, education and the environment; and (iii) strengthening peace and stability by promoting the rule of law and good governance.
TICAD7 will build on the outcomes of TICADVI held in Nairobi in 2016, which saw Japan commit $30-billion between 2016 and 2018 under public-private partnership engagement centred on quality infrastructure, resilient health systems and the foundations for peace and security.
The focus on quality infrastructure is crucial for Japan, drawing on the invariable link between infrastructure and industrialisation as key drivers of economic transformation. Informed by the G7 Ise Shima Principles for Promoting Quality Infrastructure Investment, quality infrastructure prioritises economic efficiency in view of the life cycle cost, safety, environmental and social sustainability, resilience against natural disasters and alignment with economic and development strategies.
A prime example of the integration of short-term priority projects with long-term developments is the Japan International Co-operation Agency’s (JICA) Corridor Development approach focused on three priority regions: (i) the Northern Corridor in East Africa linking Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi; (ii) the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique; and (iii) the West Africa Growth Ring connecting Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso.
The entry into force of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents greater opportunities for trade and investment in Africa, a potential catalyst for increased Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) into the continent, which stood at $9-billion in 2017, compared to China’s stock of $43-billion.
The upward trajectory of Africa’s economic growth in terms of GDP has also enhanced Africa’s attractiveness as an investment destination, alongside Asia, which receives the bulk of Japanese investment and overseas development assistance.
Following TICAD7, Japanese FDI in Africa is expected to increase significantly given the enhanced engagement with the private sector through initiatives such as the Japan-Africa Public Private Economic Forum and the Japan Business Council for Africa.
The centrality of the private sector will be evident at the numerous side-events at TICAD7, as well as a public-private business dialogue plenary session, which will be run by stakeholders from the private sector and business. The strengthening of PPPs is essential for Japan’s support for Africa’s economic transformation and accelerating the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063.
Alongside the focus on quality in its development partnership initiatives in Africa, Japan prioritises empowerment by nurturing high-skilled human resources through education, vocational training and the Kaizen approach to enhance productivity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.
Kaizen is a process which means continuous improvement in which a company maintains a mindset to consistently improve quality, productivity, cost-delivery, safety, morale and environment. A collaboration between JICA and NEPAD established the Africa Kaizen Initiative in 2017 to improve the business environment and enhance competitiveness of African firms in the global market. Several African countries have taken up the Kaizen methodology with significant results; for instance, Ethiopia spent $4.13-million to promote Kaizen between 2011 and 2016 and realised positive yields of $105-million.
Japan’s strategic outreach in Africa, with a competitive edge in quality, empowerment and human resource development, has been highlighted as a counterforce to growing Chinese influence on the continent. A good example is Japan’s extension of long-term, low-interest loans for quality infrastructure development in partnership with the African Development Bank.
Similarly, the African Business Initiative for Youth (ABE) offers scholarships for African students to take up Masters degrees in Japan and build experiences in internship programmes in Japanese companies.
Although Japan cannot compete with China in terms of the quantity of funding, it prefers to align its Africa policy with its Pacific vision, particularly the Free and Open Indo- Pacific (FOIP) strategy, targeted at promoting connectivity between Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
At the core of FOIP is quality infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region which stretches across the Pacific, East Africa and North Africa. FOIP also has a defence and security dimension, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, in which Japan co-operates with India, Australia and the US in maritime security, counterterrorism and freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy, working with like-minded countries, represents a transcontinental maritime security strategy largely beneficial for Africa, whose geostrategic and geopolitical importance has led to burgeoning interest by a number of powers with a complex web of interests and engagements.
Mounting concerns about the “debt trap” diplomacy of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, criticised for saddling several African countries with unsustainable debt, render Japan’s quality-centred approach a more attractive alternative in the long term. While the two countries’ approaches to development assistance are fundamentally different, it is up to African countries to align partnership agendas with the continent’s development priorities and strategies. The issue of debt sustainability will be a major discussion point in sessions at TICAD7.
Overall, the steady evolution of the TICAD model and its long-standing commitment to sustainable development in Africa are strong indicators of the forum’s value in contributing to Africa’s structural transformation and prosperity. Hence, TICAD7 is evidence of the deepening engagement in a solid, win-win Japan-Africa partnership.