By Michelle Harris (Boston, USA) , Saurelle Noubissie ( Buéa,Cameroon) in collaboration with Marc Andre Hart (Ottawa,Canada)
It had been some time since Japan was at the forefront of development
in Africa. Back nearly 25 years ago, Japan was the first Asian country
to recognize the importance of Japanese-African economic cooperation by
establishing the Tokyo International Conference on African Development
(TICAD). The conference was so successful in attracting international
leaders and effecting change, that it has been held religiously every
three to five years since then.
Things changed somewhat in 2000,
however, when China – soon followed by India – began to take a major
interest in the region, investing heavily in everything from energy and
mineral stores to financial, telecommunications and manufacturing
services. In fact, between the years 2000 and 2011, China is said to
have invested about $75 billion in Africa – outpacing Japan’s level of
investment several times over, according to Forbes magazine.
tide changed again in 2013, however, when Japan took a major step
forward in its support for Africa by announcing a $32 billion aid
package. This investment coincided with a weakened economy in China,
drawing the attention of its political and economic leaders inward to
deal with the crisis, and decreasing its involvement in African
With Japan’s renewed engagement in Africa, all signs
point toward Japan taking on a more involved role in building
out Africa’s infrastructure and investing in industry development.
According to a report by Linklaters LLP in London, “Japan now ranks as
the most active Asian project finance sponsor in Africa, investing
almost three times as much as China, which is often regarded as the most
active Asian investor on the continent.”
Importantly, Japan professes to view its aid to Africa differently than in the past: with Japanese Prime Minister Shinz? Abe stating
that he now views Africa “no longer as an aid recipient but rather a
partner for growth.” Japan is perfectly positioned to aid Africa, as
China takes a step back to focus on its own economy, and Japan is expert
in precisely what Africa needs to accelerate its economic growth and
diversity into additional regions and industries: infrastructure,
construction, electric power generation, and heavy manufacturing.
forward, other, more specialized types of skills will be needed
as Africa moves from building out its infrastructure to develop jobs in
areas like financial and banking services, advanced healthcare, and
education. Here again, Japan is an ideal partner because of its highly
skilled labor force – particularly the population of Japanese ex-pats
currently residing in Africa – which is able to train African workers in
any number of industries.
Of course, Japan just may have another
reason for renewing its investment interest in Africa: its dramatically
shrinking population. According to an article in The Economist, Japan’s
population began decreasing in 2004, and has since become the oldest
population in the world, with 22% of its citizens currently 65 or
older. Projections call for a drop in population from 127 million to
about 87 million by 2060, with 40% aged 65 or older.
are looking outside the country for new investment opportunities,
with Africa emerging as the perfect partner because of its abundant
supply of raw materials, expansive land, plentiful workforce, and
growing levels of infrastructure and technology.
While Japan says
it has made the switch from considering Africa an aid recipient to a
true development partner, time will tell if it backs up that claim. On
his trip to Mozambique in 2014, for example, Abe announced a $570
million assistance package for northern coastal development.
Perhaps Japan will recognize that now is the perfect time to
make Africa a true partner in its development – the time is ripe for
investing in industries and workers across-the-board and harnessing the
tremendous potential the rich and varied continent has to offer.