Japan-Africa relations are back in the limelight with the eighth edition of the Tokyo International Conference on Development in Africa (TICAD) in Tunisia, 27-28 August. The conference was held under the banner “Africa after COVID-19: Resetting Policy Priorities to Transform Economies”.
This is the second time TICAD is held in Africa, after TICAD 6 that was held in Kenya in 2016 and the first in North Africa. At the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), it was decided that Tunisia host TICAD 8, underscoring the importance Japan attaches to North African countries, considered a gateway to Africa and an essential part of Japan’s new approach for Peace and Stability in Africa (NAPSA), let alone North Africa’s position in the Indo-Pacific Initiative adopted by Japan, geared towards connecting Asian countries with Europe through east and north Africa.
TICAD 8 comes at a time Africa is facing several challenges, including the ongoing repercussions of COVID-19, amid growing concerns over the stability of food supplies and rising food and energy prices, as a result of the repercussions of the Russo-Ukrainian war and the devastating impacts of climate change. TICAD 8 was co-organized by the Japanese government, along with the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and the African Union Commission.
Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, was scheduled to take part in TICAD 8 but he was tested positive for Covid-19, which prevented his participation. However, he participated remotely via video conferencing whereas Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi attended on his behalf.
TICAD 8 Convened in the Context of International Rivalry
Over three decades, Japan has adopted a strategy toward Africa (the TICAD forum is the main arm of which) that enables it to counter major powers in Africa, particularly the Chinese influence. Tokyo realizes that the Chinese expansion in Africa could enable Beijing to benefit from African support on thorny issues such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Against this, Japan used TICAD to criticize China’s lending practices in Africa and promote the so-called Chinese “debt trap”. Tokyo is also working to identify the gaps in China’s involvement in Africa to fill them. However, unlike Beijing, which focuses on financing large projects, Tokyo focuses on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and developing human resources, enabling skills transfer to Africa, with emphasis on areas China isn’t heavily involved in such as the proactive disaster management which Japan is a global leader in.
While Japan –the world’s third largest economy– was at the front line of countries interested in African Affairs at a time major countries turned a blind eye to Africa (as has been evidenced by the launch of TICAD in 1993, i.e. 7 years before China launched FOCAC in 2000), the volume of trade exchange between Japan and Africa over the past decades remained modest compared to the trade exchange between Africa and China, which reached 12-fold that with Japan. Additionally, Japanese companies operating in Africa are less than one-tenth of Chinese companies running in the dark continent.
Beyond this, the Ukraine war provides an additional incentive for Tokyo to intensify its cooperation with Africa. While Japan joined the Group of Seven (G7) in imposing sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, African countries have been divided on condemning Russia, with only 28 African countries condemning its invasion of Ukraine.
Within the context of the Russo-Ukrainian war, Japan sees that deepening its relations with Africa is necessary to diversify its supply of energy and mineral resources, especially after Tokyo announced the phasing out of Russian oil imports and Japanese companies’ setting plans to convert old liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers into floating LNG vessels for the production of natural gas at a low cost. Africa is projected to play a critical role in these plans, where the floating LNG facilities can be built off the coast of Africa.
In addition, Tokyo is seeking to get support from African countries in its quest for a permanent Security Council seat to counter the Sino and Russian influence in the Security Council.
For their part, African countries tend to stick to their old Cold War position of non-alignment, which is recently reinforced by Africa’s openness to global partnerships that advance African interests and priorities of Agenda 2063. As such, they are unlikely to support Japan in its positions against China and Russia, both have mutual interests and partnerships with several African countries. It is unclear, though, how far Japan will go in its pursuit for support for its positions.
Heavy Agenda of TICAD 8
Given the challenges facing Africa under the difficult conditions imposed by Covid-19 and the Russo-Ukrainian war and in line with the three main pillars of Japan’s policy of cooperation with Africa, i.e. people-centered development, poverty reduction through sustainable economic development, and the consolidation of peace, TICAD 8 focused on three major themes, namely achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, reducing economic inequalities by accelerating private sector investment and supporting start-ups that address social issues, and building sustainable resilient communities, by focusing on human resources development in areas of health, education, and the environment, including the prevention of natural disasters and climate change, along with the addressing the food crisis that exacerbated due to the disruption of grain shipments and the rise in food prices in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, focusing on energy security, and improving health care services amid the continuation of Covid-19.
Tokyo also works on consolidating sustainable peace and stability by supporting the efforts of African countries aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability, particularly in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin, with peace and security being central issues in Japan’s diplomacy toward Africa. Consolidating sustainable peace and stability in Africa has been constantly discussed at TICAD since its fifth edition in 2013, following the Amenas hostage crisis in Algeria, which was adopted by a splinter group from Al-Qaeda, claiming the lives of 10 Japanese engineers.
Events on the Sidelines of TICAD 8
On the sidelines of TICAD 8, more than 20 events took place, either physically or virtually, including primarily the following:
The Economic Forum, a business forum that brings together Japanese and African companies with the aim of promoting economic cooperation. The forum witnessed the participation of about 300 Japanese, African, and Tunisian businesses, to discuss ways to establish partnerships in various promising fields for Africa.
The International Labor Organization also organized several events on the sidelines of TICAD 8, touching on numerous topics, including implementation of policies of the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions, the role of the private sector in combating climate change and promoting sustainable development, and the focus on human security and emergency functions for peace and resilience, as well as discussion of resilience and economic transformation policies in Africa (setting the agenda for the post-Covid-19 era).
In space science, a side event titled “Africa-Japan Cooperation on Satellite Development” was held on 23 August, during which the Japanese Embassy in Tunisia announced that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency had named Tunisia, Kenya and Mauritius as partners in the project to launch satellites from the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” of the International Space Station.
Beyond this, other events were organized, spotlighting topics related to agriculture, food security, climate change, education, entrepreneurship, regional integration, health, vaccine production, communication technologies, digital transformation, the blue economy, and opportunities for developing the private sector infrastructure in Africa, alongside the Japan-Africa Science Innovation Week, held on 22-28 August.
Fumio also held several talks with a number of African leaders and representatives of African countries and organizations via video conferencing, including representatives from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Djibouti, South Sudan, Tanzania, Senegal, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the African Union Commission, discussing with them the ways through which Africa can develop its resources and boost its economy. He also met with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, with whom he discussed joint cooperation in the Suez Canal Economic Zone and the expansion of implementing the Japanese education system in Egypt.
Major Outcomes of TICAD 8
The major outcomes of the TICAD 8 can be summarized as follows:
- Tunis Declaration
TICAD 8 concluded with the adoption of the “TICAD 8 Tunis Declaration”, which puts emphasis on financing fair and transparent development in Africa, promoting universal health coverage to combat Covid-19, encouraging private sector investments, and investing in digital transformation and ICT infrastructure in Africa as a means of unlocking the continent’s growth potential and creating job opportunities for its population.
In the context of countering Chinese influence in the region, the Tunis Declaration called on African countries to join the initiative of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, comprising 13 countries, namely the United States, Japan, India, Australia, Brunei, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The initiative involves a maritime route linking countries of the Indo-Pacific through Africa to Europe, a route that is similar to the maritime silk road of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
In the Tunis Declaration, participants in TICAD 8 expressed their grave concern over repercussions of the Ukraine war on Africa and the global economy, underscoring the importance of joint action to maintain international peace and stability, building on the international law that lies at the heart of at the core of the international system.
Besides the Tunis Declaration, TICAD 8 gave rise to the signing of more than 30 agreements between Japan and African companies, including 3 agreements with Tunisia, relating to financing start-ups, security, and desalination of seawater, in addition to human resources development through training of 300,000 people in wide range of sectors in Africa, including agriculture, healthcare, education, and law. Japan will also support African countries by training experts in financial management and development funding so that African countries aren’t further burdened with large Chinese loans that they cannot repay.
- Pledges of up to $30 Billion
Japan plans to direct $30 billion in aid and investment into Africa over the next three years including about $4 billion to be invested in green growth, $1 billion to support African countries’ debt restructuring, $300 million of co-financing with the African Development Bank to boost food production, $130 million in food aid, and $200 million in aid to increase production capacities of medicines and pharmaceuticals (including vaccines) in Africa, as has been announced by Japanese Prime Minister at a summit on Covid-19 last May, let alone establishing an investment fund for start-ups in Africa worth JPY 10 billion.
In short, notwithstanding Japan’s significance as an important partner of Africa and the generous pledges that TICAD 8 gave rise to, this edition of TICAD lacked momentum. While the pre-TICAD statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia indicated that about 50 African heads of state and prime ministers were expected to take part in TICAD 8 along with the Japanese prime minister, his cabinet, and several heads of international organizations, only 20 high-ranking government officials attended TICAD 8, down from 45 officials attending TICAD 7 that was held in Yokohama in 2019.
Perhaps this limited participation could be attributed to the failure of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to attend after catching Covid. Fumio joined TICAD 8 online as much as possible from his official residence in Tokyo. The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in last July, i.e. 7 weeks before TICAD 8, could be another reason for the reduced momentum around TICAD 8. Shinzo has been more eager to strengthen economic and diplomatic relations between Japan and Africa, through private sector-led involvement than any other Japanese prime minister.
Whatever the reason for the reduced momentum around TICAD 8 is, Japan will remain an essential and active partner in the development of Africa. Until the convening of TICAD 9 in Japan in 2025, the upcoming three years will give rise to a state of uncertainty as to the continuation of Shinzo’s old approach to Africa or the adoption of a new approach aimed at gaining more influence in Africa in the face of other international competitors.