One of Tokyo’s most innovative strategies in recent years has been the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). The first TICAD was held in 1993, as a result of the Japanese government’s decision to play a greater role in international affairs following the end of the Cold War.
At the first conference, Japan pledged to increase the proportion of its aid budget that it spends in Africa as successive Japanese governments had previously focused the bulk of their aid expenditure closer to home, particularly in the countries of Southeast Asia.
Since then, the conference has been held every five years, most recently in 2013, with the aim of promoting sustainable development, security and good governance in the process. The focus of TICAD began to move away from aid and towards private sector trade and investment at TICAD IV in 2008.
The fifth TICAD in 2013 was a three-day conference in Yokohama that was attended by the leaders of 50 African countries. At Yokohama, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a total of $32bn in Japanese public and private investment to be made in Africa over five years.
At Yokohama, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a total of $32bn in Japanese public and private investment to be made in Africa over five years
The money will include $14bn in official development aid and $6.5bn in infrastructural investment. Tokyo argues that it has consistently delivered on its aid promises, even in the face of domestic opposition following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
TICAD should not be seen in isolation but as part of a more general increase in Japanese interest in Africa. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the continent in January, just a month after taking office, visiting Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Mozambique. He has also pledged to introduce a more proactive foreign policy.
Speaking at a meeting in Addis Ababa, he said: “The African nations are no longer in need of aid. The region’s human resource development and infrastructure improvement are both attractive investments for the future…They are made for Japan to grow together with the African countries.”
It is important that Tokyo allows African governments to suggest where help can best be provided. For instance, during Abe’s visit, the African Union requested Japanese support in ocean management.
The chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said: “Africa, in addition to land resources, also has vast oceanic resources, and therefore is exploring more sustainable and inclusive ways of expanding and protecting its Blue economy, yet another area where we can share experience with Japan.”
Abe suggested that Japan could become “the African partner of the 21st century”. In addition, Japan’s Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko visited Tanzania and Zambia for 12 days in June and July, partly in order to visit national parks but also to meet the Presidents of the two countries and to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Zambia and Japan.
At a summit in Tokyo in April, US President Barack Obama asked Abe to use the Japanese Self-Defence Force (SDF) more often on UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, particularly on counter terrorism projects.
The Japanese military has played a very limited role in the world since the end of the Second World War. However, in tandem with a similar process in Germany, Tokyo is slowly coming around to the idea of allowing more overseas operations by its forces. At present, the SDF are only involved in one out of nine UN missions in Africa: the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan.