Over 450 participants convened in Addis Ababa earlier this week for the Africa Japan Business and Investment Forum (http://ic-events.net/event/africa-japan/). The Forum, hosted for the first time on African soil, was co- organised by leading pan African magazine, African Business and Nikkei Business, Japan’s leading business and finance media group. The Nikkei Business Group recently purchased the Financial Times.
The three-day event featured a number of high level speakers including the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, former President Chissano of Mozambique and a number of dignitaries from Japan.
Throughout the Forum, the message was clear: Africa is open for business and willing to engage with partners all over the world. And the Japanese have a unique offering, in terms of know-how and in terms of how they conduct their business, such as compliance and ethics. Japanese and African delegates acknowledged that Japanese engagement with the continent could be stronger, citing cultural differences and that the Japanese way of doing business meant it often takes longer to make investment decisions. However, once these decisions are made, business engagements are built on loyalty and trust, and they engage with a long term outlook.
When asked why Japan seemed to lag behind other countries, notably China, when it comes to investing in Africa, the Vice President of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency’s Africa Department, Hiroshi Kato, highlighted number of factors. Regarding the perceived ‘timid engagement’, he reminded delegates that in the mid-90s and the early 2000s, just when African economic growth started to pick up, Japan was entering a long recession. “The focus of Japanese companies was to retrench rather than expand, and therefore businesses were much more inward looking. When Japan did start to look outwards, it looked ‘closer to home’, that is Asian markets such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam.”
Given his agency’s role as one of the leading Japanese agencies designed to promote investment into the continent, be it Japanese overseas aid or Japanese private sector engagement, he mentioned several ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. He said, “The push factors relate to Japan’s ageing population and the need to for overseas expansion in order to for companies to grow. In terms of the pull factors we are noting the positive African narrative and what appears to be a new ‘can do’ spirit and attitude in Africa.”
Dr Arkebe Oqubay, a leading personality in Ethiopia and a special advisor to the Prime Minister added that Japanese engagements came with a lot of benefits. He said that throughout its long history with Ethiopia, Japan’s engagement had never been prescriptive and the Japanese had always respected their partners and the context of each country’s needs. “Japanese investment is often superior because of the strong adherence to laws and compliance and because of quality business processes and work. Moreover there is considerable transfer knowledge from which we can benefit when interacting with our Japanese counterparts.”
A key highlight of the Forum was a joint presentation by Kenichi Ohno, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and Getahun Tadesse who leads the Ethiopian Kaizen Institute. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, leading to vast increases in productivity and the reason why Japanese companies are leaders in many fields. The Kaizen philosophy, with its emphasis on more efficient processes, is a technique that has enabled companies such as Toyota to become the world’s largest auto manufacturers.
Ethiopia, through its institute, has now developed over 40,000 trainees in the last three years, including management and shop floor workers. The estimated productivity savings are in the region of $100m, delivered through more efficient processes and an efficiency-led mindset.
Omar Ben Yedder, publisher of African Business, who co-hosted the event said: “I thought the panels and attendance were fantastic. This event was a lead up to TICAD VI which will take place next year in Nairobi. I personally learnt a lot about the Japanese way of doing business, and, as we are seeing with growing investments from Japanese companies in Mozambique, Kenya and even here in Ethiopia, all the ingredients are right to make this partnership grow.”
Note for Editors
In the latest issue of African Business magazine, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn expands on the theme of socioeconomic development as he discusses a range of issues relating to his country’s inclusive Growth and Transformation Plan. In this interview the Ethiopian leader shares his views on democracy and good governance, looking at the new move by his government to include the voices of opposition and non-state actors in the political discourse. He also speaks on manufacturing, industrialisation, indigenisation and employment creation, as well as some of the wider issues impacting the Horn of Africa. African Business is available digitally via http://www.exacteditions.com/africanbusiness and on Apple and Android app stores.