TICAD – the Tokyo International Conference on African Development – is the premier diplomatic and economic forum for Japanese engagement with the African continent. The regular event, hosted by the Japanese government alongside the United Nations, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank and African Union Commission, has set the agenda in Japan-Africa relations since 1993.
This year’s instalment – the first since the Covid-19 pandemic and the first to be held in Africa since Kenya in 2016 – will be held in Tunisia on August 27 and 28. The 2019 instalment in Yokohama, Japan, was visited by over 10,000 people, including 42 African leaders from 53 African countries, 52 development partner countries, 108 heads of international and regional organisations, and representatives of civil society and the private sector.
Japan says the event “has consistently advocated the significance of principles of African ownership and international partnership in African development”.
What will be on the agenda in Tunisia?
According to a briefing document by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this year’s conference will include a particular focus on restoring growth and development after the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic. Efforts will focus on boosting “human security” including developing Africa’s response to the pandemic, building inclusive and resilient health systems, and responding to the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19, including through debt support mechanisms.
With debt support and recovery on the agenda in a period of global economic insecurity, this year’s event is unlikely to mirror the resounding optimism of TICAD7 at Yokohama in 2019. But Development Reimagined CEO Hannah Ryder, who has come up with a list of four goals for Japanese and African representatives at the conference, says much can still be achieved in infrastructure, value addition, supporting Africa’s voice in global affairs, and private sector cooperation.
“TICAD comes at a time of great geopolitical uncertainty – with the Russia-Ukraine war, continued tensions between the US and China, and concerns about spillover effects on African countries – from the food crisis to potential energy and debt crises. The Japanese government has therefore begun to play down the summit, suggesting TICAD8 will be centred on three very broad pillars: economy, society, and peace and stability, and fewer participants are expected to join in person in Tunisia due to Covid-19… TICAD8 is unlikely to act as a pledging conference for Japanese aid towards African countries. But there is still reason to engage – if Japanese leaders are truly open to working in a new, respectful and mature way, hand in hand with African counterparts,” she writes.
What was promised in Yokohama?
At TICAD7 in 2019, which had a focus on technology and innovation, late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe promised that Japan’s private sector would invest $20bn over three years. “We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa,” he announced.
By 2019, there were 796 Japanese companies in operation in Africa (a third in manufacturing) compared to 520 in 2010.
Japan also pledged to train 3,000 people over a period of six years under a human resource development programme for Africa in a bid to improve Japan-Africa relations and expertise. A monitoring and reporting mechanism was launched to track the progress of an ambitious plan of actions towards achieving three broad pillars – accelerating economic transformation and improving the business environment through innovation and private sector engagement, deepening sustainable and resilient society, and strengthening peace and stability.
However, the shock of the global pandemic is likely to have rendered much of the outcomes of Yokohama all but impossible to meet, meaning that this year’s conference will offer a chance for a reset.
Are the Japanese doing enough to invest in Africa?
Despite the investment pledges, Japanese companies remain wary of Africa, says Hannah Ryder.
“Japanese companies continue to perceive the African market as high risk, with 65% of the companies citing development and implementation of regulation or legislation as a risk of investing in Africa. Next was financial affairs (46.7%), followed by poor infrastructure (44%), hiring and work force problems (39.4%) and trade regulations (33.5%),” she writes.
Trade is also limited by regulatory hurdles – Japan has almost no trade-related agreements with African countries, beyond standard duty quota-free schemes for least developed countries.
It does not have a Preferential Trade Agreement with any African countries, and only four African countries – Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Zambia, have double taxation agreements with Japan.
Ryder says that Japanese companies could be more ambitious by investing up the value chain, seeing Africa as a location for value addition and manufacturing rather than merely a potential market for sales. Japan should also focus efforts on building infrastructure on the continent, says Ryder.
“Japan’s experience with designing and building efficient urban infrastructures for dense populations is highly relevant to an urbanising African continent.”