Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa at the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama in 2019. Picture: Japanese Embassy in South Africa
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa at the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama in 2019. Picture: Japanese Embassy in South Africa

Shinzo Abe set a firm foundation for Japan-Africa relations

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 10, 2020

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Norio Maruyama

Part 1 in a series

Q: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation on August 28. Can you share your insights on Abe’s contribution in Africa?

A: Shinzo Abe is the longest-serving prime minister of Japan, since December 2012. With the leadership of Abe and close interaction with Japanese business, he brought private investment to Africa, through commitments expressed at TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development), a high-level policy forum on Africa’s development started in 1993.

He is the only prime minister of Japan who co-hosted TICAD three times - TICAD 5 in 2013 (Yokohama), TICAD 6 in 2016 (Nairobi) and TICAD 7 last year (Yokohama).

At TICAD 5, Japan made a commitment of private sector investment as well as an Official Development Assistance amount of $32billion and at TICAD 6 $30bn. He has also made a commitment of private sector investment of more than $20bn at TICAD 7 last year, which is firmly in progress.

Japan’s investment to South Africa between 2013 and last year has exceeded $50bn, including investments from Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu, Sumitomo Rubber, Tokyo Marine, Komatsu, Nomura Investment, NEC, Lixil and Kansai Paint.

South Africa is the base of Japanese investment to Africa, as South Africa hosts some 160 Japanese companies (far greater than Kenya and Morocco combined) that are creating 150000 jobs in South Africa alone.

A few weeks ago, I was pleased to be informed that the commitment of investment at the second Investment Forum in November - hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year - by Toyota South Africa (R4.2bn), Nissan Africa (R3.2bn) and Isuzu (R1.2bn)are firmly on track despite the disruption over the past six months caused by Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Abe bridged youth empowerment with industrial training and initiated the African Business Education (ABE) initiative, to invite African students for a Master’s course programme and internship in Japanese companies.

Since TICAD 5, 1 286 Africans from 54 countries studied in Japan and became focal points of investment and technology. In turn, Japanese universities and companies also benefited and were surprised by the quality of highly motivated African students. From next year, the scope for the ABE initiative will be expanded to include students in PhD and SDG studies.

South Africans are prominent in the ABE Initiative.

More than 120 South Africans have participated and its alumni are founding members of all-African “Kakehashi Africa” in bridging African business with Japan.

At TICAD 7, Abe announced 3000 industrial human resources training positions under the ABE initiative, for six years. The ABE initiative 2021 intake is open for applications at the Japan International Co-operation Agency’s (JICA) website (https://www.jica.go.jp/southafrica/english/office/others/abe.html) in preparation for the day you can travel. Abe also placed special emphasis on Japan’s contribution to Africa in empowering each individual, for achieving a society where no one is left behind.

Universal Health Coverage, an ecosystem of health-related infrastructure such as provision of clean water, sewage services and nutritional intervention, are areas of Japan’s continued involvement in Africa with the dispatch of Japan Overseas Co-operation Volunteers and experts through the JICA programme.

President Ramaphosa visited Japan last year. What was the focus of the discussion with the prime minister in the area of development?

Abe received Ramaphosa three times last year. This is the first time in history that the president of South Africa visited Japan three times in six months, for the G20 Osaka Summit, TICAD 7 and Rugby World Cup final.

The climax was the dramatic victory of the Springboks. Abe shared a jubilant moment with Ramaphosa right after it happened at the Yokohama Stadium. This is apart from their telephone conversation in 2018 and in 2015 (when Ramaphosa visited Japan as deputy president). Responding to the request for assistance by Ramaphosa for artisan training, the JICA project in TVET colleges (Tshwane South and Northlink so far) has started, with the focus on fitting and turning skills required for the automotive industry.

What is TICAD? There are many forums on Africa led by different countries. What are the features and values of TICAD in comparison to other forums?

TICAD has special features of (1) inclusive and open multilateral forum with African heads of state and development partners including international/regional organisations, business sectors, with stakeholders including civil society, (2) emphasising development effort of African ownership and with partnership of the international community, and (3) steady fulfilment of commitment through TICAD follow-up mechanisms.

Tell us about some of the achievements of the TICAD.

TICAD is the pioneer of forums on African development and it started in 1993. It has been deepening policy discussions on the African Agenda.

Among its achievement, TICAD made contributions towards the establishment of NEPAD, when then-president Thabo Mbeki made a special request to Japan to arrange a meeting of African and G7 leaders on the margins of the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit in 2000, to win the world’s support on Africa’s first development strategy (called New Africa Initiative then).

Abe, for his part, has sought synergy of G20 with TICAD and promoted global support for Africa’s Agenda 2063 in conjunction with SGDs.

In terms of the food security for Africa, Abe has completed Japan’s TICAD commitment of doubling rice production in Africa from 2008 to 2018 (from 14 million metric tons to 28 million) under the CARD initiative.

At TICAD 7, Abe promised to re-double the rice production by 2030 (from 28million metric tons to 56 million metric tons).

* Norio Maruyama is Japan’s ambassador to South Africa

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

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