Jump to navigation

confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 3rd September 2019

The week ahead in Africa: Japan's African offer

Patrick Smith

This week we start in the East, picking up the pieces from the Japan-Africa summit, and then to Zambia where an opposition politician is being hauled before the courts accused of insulting the President. In Kenya, fresh battles are breaking out over budgets for the county governments. Also in East Africa, the mooted rapprochement between Rwanda and Uganda is proving painfully slow.

JAPAN'S AFRICAN OFFER: Tokyo challenges Beijing's empire with diplomacy as well as cash

Going by the headcount – 42 African heads of state and representatives of 11 other African countries – the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) in Yokohama in the week ending 31 August was a success.

Apart from giving Tokyo officials a forum in which to set out their latest financing pledges, Japanese diplomats fleshed out their idea of a 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific', talking of free trade, freedom of navigation, market economics and the rule of law.

Although not pitched as a rival to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, in which African states are leading participants, the 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific', led by Japan and India, talks about 'vision' and 'values', not a new trade or investment bloc.

In this way Japan offers an alternative to China's plans without forcing African and Asian states to choose between them. Given the attendance at Yokohama, African governments take Tokyo's new posture seriously.

The effort that went into Ticad's organisation this year was another sign that Japan is trying to position itself as a rival to Chinese influence in Africa. Yet Tokyo's trade with Africa – averaging about US$8 billion a year – and its investment, at about $20bn over the past three years, is about a tenth of China-Africa business.

Japan's offer, with its focus on rule of law and sustainable debt, is closer in spirit to European countries, chiefly the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Like the European Union, which offers finance for the African Union's technical team as it draws up rules for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Japan wants to back measures that 'concretely link the African private sector with its counterparts in Japan'. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a 'free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment'.

The rush by many African leaders to take on Chinese-financed infrastructure projects is in part because the money doesn't appear to have political strings attached.

ZAMBIA'S CRACKDOWN: Copperbelt contender faces trial at end of September on charges of insulting President Edgar Lungu

Two days after his National Democratic Congress party was deregistered, its leader Chishimba Kambwili was arrested because of a video in which he said 'some dogs from Chawama do not get tired of travelling'. Chawama is a slum in Lusaka where Edgar Lungu lived and served as member of parliament before his election to the presidency in 2015.

Supporters of President Lungu are leaving little to chance, even if they have to use crude tactics to nobble a rival. The NDC won its first parliamentary seat in the key Copperbelt region in April, defeating Lungu's Patriotic Front (PF) in a by-election. It then agreed an electoral pact with the United Party for National Development (UPND) to support its leader, Hakainde Hichilema, when he runs for the presidency in 2021.

A former minister who quit the PF in 2016, Kambwili's trial is to open on 30 September. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison. Although Kambwili's party is small at the moment, its capacity to win support from Lungu's support base in the Copperbelt and beyond represents a serious threat to the ruling PF.

DIVIDING THE SPOILS IN KENYA: More budget battles loom between the counties and Nairobi as politicians argue over a new tier of regional government

Six years after the devolved system of government was brought in, Kenya's 47 county governors are preparing for another round of negotiations with the centre over cash and political powers.

County governors say that the impasse over the Division of Revenue Bill, which allocated governors 314bn shillings ($3.14bn) in the 2019/2020 financial year against the KSh335bn ($3.35bn) they requested, will lead to a shutdown of services in mid-September if lawmakers in Nairobi do not agree to their demands. It may mean further delays to public officials' salaries, which have already been held up.

Fights over cash are not the only headache for the county governors. One of the early champions of devolution, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, is calling for a third tier of regional government which could be put to voters in another referendum.

Odinga's plan looks set to emerge from the Building Bridges Initiative, the political deal that he struck with President Uhuru Kenyatta after the row over the 2017 elections. A new tier of government could eat into the powers and budgets currently enjoyed by both the county governors and central government in Nairobi.

QUESTIONMARKS OVER UGANDA-RWANDA DEAL: A slow fix for the political and personal battles between Kampala and Kigali

Rwandan and Ugandan officials and ministers are 'working on' a joint meeting to discuss the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Angola by Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni on 21 August.

The agreement, brokered by Angola's President João Lourenço, commits the two sides to re-open the border and to resume unfettered trade, but the two leaders are showing no enthusiasm.

The feud is deeply personal, with both parties accusing the other of security breaches, espionage, and supporting the other's fugitives, but its main cost has been economic, with businesses incurring hefty losses from over six months of border closure.

XENOPHOBIC RIOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA: Attacks on Nigerians raise tensions in Africa's two biggest economies ahead of Presidential summit

Combined, the South African and Nigerian economies account for over a third of Africa's gross domestic product of about US$2.1 trillion, but relations between the two have been rocky for a decade. Attacks on Nigerian citizens and businesses in Johannesburg on 2 September threaten further damage.

The xenophobic violence in South Africa's commercial capital, in which at least one person was killed, several more injured and dozens of properties torched, prompted Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to announce his government would take 'definitive measures' after saying local police efforts to protect people had been ineffective.

Opposition politicians in Nigeria have criticised their government for failing to protect their citizens overseas after previous xenophobic attacks. The latest crisis comes just a month before President Muhammadu Buhari is due in South Africa on a state visit in a bid by the two countries to boost trade and security cooperation.

Now, the safety of Nigerian citizens and businesses will be added to the summit's agenda. A key issue will be the tax treatment in Nigeria of South African multinationals such as mobile phone giant MTN. In the wake of both countries signing the treaty on a single African market, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, Buhari is under pressure to shield local companies in Nigeria from competition from other South African companies.

The xenophobic violence, aimed not only at Nigerians, is highly embarrassing to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who tomorrow (4 September) welcomes hundreds of African leaders, officials and businesspeople to the African edition of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town.


INVESTORS MULL SOUTH AFRICA'S ESKOM: Although it owes over $30bn, the state power company's bonds are attracting stronger interest than expected

COST OF NIGERIA'S SECURITY CRISIS: About 6% of the country's 2 million barrels a day have been stolen this year as a rise in oil pipeline vandalism is reported

POLL DRAMA DUE IN BOTSWANA: As fall out with his predecessor worsens, President Mokgweetsi Masisi sets 23 October for national and local elections