As Africa and Japan look forward to the 7th Tokyo International Conference on Africa's Development (TICAD) in Yokohama, many observers believe that Japan is weary of increasing Chinese influence in Africa, and is therefore likely to use the forum to drum up more support for Africa, perhaps with the intention of changing perceptions.
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Although Japan is one of Africa's trading partners, China's influence in the continent has increased in the recent past, especially in infrastructure development through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On the other hand, the trade deficit between China and Africa is increasing, and China is said to be more interested in Africa for its own economic interest. In fact, there have been accusations that China is using Africa as a dumping ground for cheap and low quality products which cannot find a way in other more competitive markets.
However, Dr. Moses Ikiara, an economic expert in Kenya, feels that Japan has a longer presence in Africa than China and therefore should not feel threatened by the Chinese entrance. According to Ikiara, through the TICAD framework Japan will increase its visibility in Africa and be able to change and increase business via the private sector which is now becoming a major focus.
Japan has been able to create a better understanding with Africa since the TICAD process started some 25 years ago. Unlike other donors, many observers believe that Japan- Africa relations have a better future because its support for Africa is not pegged on any interest or condition, and basically focuses more on enhancing development and empowerment.
Through its technical and trading arm - the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Japan has been able to create a strong impact in Africa's economic development by establishing long term projects in education, agriculture, infrastructure development, health, trade, research sectors and knowledge transfers.
TICAD is yet to create a strong impact for trade between Japan and Africa as a framework for enhancing such cooperation and Japan- Africa relations, although it has been in existence for decades now. Many critics argue that its aspect as an initiative between Japanese and African governments means it has not been able to create trickle down effects to the grassroots level, which is perhaps why the TICAD 7 conference to be held in Yokohama is now more focused on enterprise and private sector driven initiatives.
There is an urgent need for Africa to reduce its dependency on foreign aid and assistance, therefore international frameworks and partnerships such as TICAD, FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) etc. are not only critical but also very significant since the continent has vast resources, improved governance, connectivity, integration and a population and per capita income which is increasing tremendously.
(By Denise A.O. Kodhe, Director General, Institute for Development and Leadership in Africa (IDEA for Africa); Chairman, Kenya National Chapter of AU-ECOSOCC)