Japanese drive to help Africa offers benefits for both sides

opinion January 19, 2014 00:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News

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The world has its eyes on Africa, a growing market blessed with rich natural resources. Japan, for its part, should strengthen relations with African countries, a move that will surely help revitalize the Japanese economy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just wrapped up a visit to three African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Ethiopia. The trip marked the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a Japanese prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi toured the region in 2006.
Cote d’Ivoire is a key logistical hub for West Africa, and Mozambique boasts a wealth of natural gas and other resources. Ethiopia, home to the headquarters of the African Union, is regarded as a political centre of the continent. Abe’s choice to visit these three countries shows Japan’s consideration extends to the whole of Africa.
In June last year, the Abe administration invited African leaders from 51 nations or their deputies to the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 5). Abe’s recent visit to the three nations was partly aimed at reinforcing a rela-tionship of trust with African leaders.
Abe delivered a policy address in Ethiopia stressing the need to build mutually beneficial ties between Japan and African countries. The speech drew attention to Japanese companies operating in Africa and their efforts to train local workers while valuing the ingenuity of each individual. Strengthening the relationship between companies like these and the peoples of Africa will foster a win-win relationship, benefiting both Japan and African nations, he underscored.
Creating mutual benefits
Abe announced Japanese government policies focusing on youth and women, aimed at developing human resources by promoting vocational training and welcoming African students to Japan, as well as providing support for childbirth and child rearing.
In recent years, China has drastically expanded its presence in Africa with investments and loans. But the country has been criticised for unilaterally diverting resources and profits from Africa to itself. Many Chinese companies import workers from China to work in Africa – a practice that does not help in increasing local employment.
It is clear that Abe’s approach is to stress “Japaneseness” and to differentiate the country from China. Arriving in Africa accompanied by a delegation from 
the corporate sector was part of the effort to strengthen economic ties with Africa. Enhancing its presence in Africa is crucial for Japan.
Also of great importance is improving the environment for Japanese companies to help them make inroads into Africa. It will be necessary to make use of Japanese ODA in improving public infrastructure, such as roads and power plants.
Sadly, more than a few regions in Africa are still plagued by terrorist attacks and shaken by political instability. South Sudan, for example, is on the verge of slipping into civil war. Japan should help restore stability in these areas by making stronger contributions in the realm of public safety.
Abe has expressed a desire to make repeated visits to Africa. Japan must invest in joint endeavors through the public and private sectors to strengthen its ties with African countries from both mid- and long-term perspectives.