Africa is the continent of the future. It has an abundance of natural resources. It is the only region with a population that is expected to grow into the next century.
There are signs that the economy is taking off with growth rates averaging 5.8 percent between 2001 and 2010. Having been posted in South Africa in the late 1990s, I sense a wholly different dynamic at play in Africa today.
This is in contrast to the situation in my own country. Unlike Africa, Japan is mature and developed, with a population that is ageing and decreasing. It lacks natural resources and energy.
Economic growth during the past decade has stagnated at low levels. Reflecting the relative decline of Japan in recent years, its presence in Africa has also been somewhat outshone by some emerging economies. Despite such circumstances, Japan will continue to matter for Africa. Let me explain why.
For Africa to realise its full potential, it must overcome challenges such as lack of skills, lack of infrastructure and finance, and sustainable development. Not so long ago, Japan had to overcome similar challenges. Later, Japan used its own experience to provide support to Asian countries.
Historically, Japan has been the largest provider of official development assistance to Asian countries. And it was the largest donor country between 1991 and 2000. The rapid economic growth achieved in Japan and later in east Asia is now known as the “East Asian Miracle”. There is huge scope for Africa to benefit from this experience.
First, while the importance of education is widely shared today, education has always been a top priority in Japan.
In the Meiji Era (1868 to 1912), when Japan was transforming itself from a feudal to a modern nation and trying to catch up with the West, the government spent vast amounts of money on education, hiring foreign advisers, sending trainees abroad, setting up engineering schools, paying high salaries to teachers and providing high-quality, affordable education.
In the same vein, Japan’s assistance to Africa attaches high priority to education. The Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica), Japan’s aid agency, has a comprehensive education programme in Africa that ranges from mathematics and science (24 African countries receive aid) to vocational training and joint research.
Japan’s approach to education emphases the provision of human resources to meet the needs of its industries. In the Meiji period, skills development was in close co-ordination with the promotion of key industries such as mining, railways, shipping, electricity and textiles.
Such an approach is part of Japan’s aid programme in Africa. For example, Jica provides practical training to students with inputs from Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Nissan and Toyota in co-operation with the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). It links education to business, giving the students a chance to learn skills for the workplace.
There is a plan to set up a regional training centre at TUT to promote Kaizen, a quality and productivity improvement movement that has started in Japan.
This project is based on the success of Jica’s programme in Ethiopia. Such activities will help raise the quality and output of factory products in South Africa.
In 1945, damages from World War II reduced Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 20 percent of the wartime peak. To rebuild the nation, the government aimed at fostering a strong private sector through a three-pronged strategy of promoting skills development, a favourable business environment, and infrastructure development. This strategy worked for Japan and later for east Asia.
Infrastructure development is crucial for Africa. Without it, a dramatic increase in production, trade and growth is impossible.
Japan supports the Programme for Infrastructure Development Africa, being promoted on the continent. It is the largest bilateral donor of infrastructure to Africa, providing ¥41.6 billion (R4bn) between 2008 and 2011 for transport, energy, and water. And to facilitate smooth border crossing, Jica supports the One Stop Border Post initiative at 14 border posts in Africa.
By consolidating inspections of the numerous authorities involved in cross-border procedures, time required for a loaded lorry to pass through the borders at Chirundu between Zambia and Zimbabwe was reduced from seven days to just several hours.
Another feature of Japan’s development is the strategic planning of industrial zones and transport hubs. This approach proved successful in east Asia. As a result of Japan’s support to Thailand for the development of ports, industrial estate and transport on the eastern coastal area of Bangkok, the area has become a major industrial area, attracting foreign investment. Based on such experience, Jica is conducting a study to identify potential locations for development of industrial zones and logistics hubs together with the relevant infrastructure along the main corridors in southern Africa.
While this is merely a first attempt, I hope it will lead to industrial development along the region’s major corridors.
But Japan’s value to Africa lies not only in its past experiences. It has more to offer.
First, Japanese companies are focusing more on Africa. As the examples in Asia show, the host countries of Japanese investments have benefited not only in jobs and wealth creation but also in terms of building capacity of local industries.
Japanese banks, which hold personal savings among the world’s largest, are looking to the continent. Unlike some of their Western counterparts, Japanese lenders have relatively healthy balance sheets.
In South Africa, Japanese foreign direct investment has been increasing in recent years, amounting to nearly R20bn in stock in 2010. Japanese companies generate 150 000 jobs in the country. What is more, manufacturing firms significantly boost the capacity of local industries. Japanese companies traditionally take a long-term view and place emphasis on contributing to society. I believe Africa will benefit from the presence of more Japanese businesses.
The Japanese government is encouraging its businesses to engage with Africa. Japan External Trade Organisation has organised numerous business trips to Africa and offers other support. Since 2008, Japan Bank for International Co-operation has provided $2.9bn (R26bn) in low-interest loans to Africa, including to Eskom and Transnet. Japan Oil, Gas and Metal National Corporation supports mining in Africa through activities such as training geologists and mapping potential areas for mineral development through its remote sensing centre in Gaborone, Botswana.
Second, Japan can help modernise railway networks. Japan has one of the most reliable railway systems in the world. And the “bullet trains” have never had a fatal accident since their introduction in 1964.
Japan recently funded a study on a fast-speed railway to connect Johannesburg and Durban in three hours. Jica is conducting a study on the local railway industry to identify possibilities for co-operation between Japanese and local companies.
Third, Japan leads in science and technology. It spends one of the highest percentages of GDP (3.57 percent) on research and development, accounting for 20 percent of the global total. One result of such an effort was this year’s Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, awarded to Professor Shinya Yamanaka. His discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells has the potential to repair or reproduce human organs.
Science and technology is essential to new challenges such as climate change, energy and the environment. Africa can use the most advanced technology available.
At the COP18 summit in Doha, Japan’s climate change aid of $17.4bn from 2008 to October 2012 accounted for about 40 percent of the developed countries’ total.
In South Africa, Jica has just completed a project to improve energy efficiency through economic modelling. In another project, scientists from our two countries are upgrading climate change prediction models through supercomputers.
From June 1 to 3, heads of state from Japan and Africa will attend the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) in Yokohama to discuss how to promote quality economic growth, inclusive and resilient society, and peace and stability in the continent. Ticad was initiated in 1993 to promote Africa as a global agenda when international interest in Africa waned after the Cold War. Japan also invited African heads of state to the Group of Eight Kyushu-Okinawa summit in 2001, a practice that continues. Four Ticad meetings since 1993 have enhanced co-operation between Japan and Africa.
Japan has been a true friend to Africa. Despite the global financial crisis and damages of the recent earthquake, Japan is set to achieve all the pledges it made at Ticad 4 in 2008, namely to double its official development assistance to Africa by 2012 to $1.8bn annually, provide development loans up to $4bn in five years, and to double direct investment in Africa to $3.4bn (it reached $5.2bn in 2010).
Why does Japan support Africa? After all, Japan is far away and has historically had limited links with Africa.
In short, Japan is committed to fulfil its duty in the world and Africa is a key partner in dealing with global issues. The first Japanese prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa remarked: “Without resolving problems of Africa there can be no global peace and stability.” Japan is keenly aware that its prosperity depends on a favourable global environment. In a recent poll by the UN Children’s Fund, 80 percent of Japan’s respondents supported assistance to Africa.
At a more personal level, we Japanese cherish bonds of friendship, what we call kizuna. One of the pioneers in Africa was Dr Hideyo Noguchi, a bacteriologist who came to Ghana in 1928 to launch research on yellow fever. His legacy continues at the Noguchi Institute for Medical Research in Accra, established by Japan in 1979. In 2008 at Ticad 4, Japan founded the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize to award individuals who make major contributions to medical research and services in Africa.
With regards to South Africa, the centennial celebrations of our bilateral relations took place in 2010. More recently, last October, President Jacob Zuma conferred the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo to Toshio Akiniwa, who supported the ANC in the 1980s by organising anti-apartheid campaigns and supporting the establishment of the ANC Tokyo office.
I conclude by referring to the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. While the disaster was a tragedy for Japan, it was a rare opportunity for us to rediscover the strong bonds of friendship with other peoples. Japan received tremendous sympathy and support from all over the world, including Africa.
In the aftermath, Rescue South Africa was dispatched to look for survivors and provide support in the freezing cold. The prime minister expressed our heartfelt gratitude to all the countries for the kizuna and pledged to repay their kindness.
Just as the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in the world (at 634m) was completed despite the earthquake, Ticad 5 will be a historic opportunity to take our partnership with Africa to a higher level.
Yutaka Yoshizawa is the ambassador of Japan to South Africa.