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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 29th August 2019

Tokyo scrambles for Africa

Blue Lines

This week's Tokyo International Conference on African Development, held confusingly in Yokohama, shows the growing competition between foreign powers on the continent. Although Japan's commercial ties with Africa – some $10 billion of trade a year – are minuscule compared with the $200bn annual China-Africa commerce, the two Asian powers are in a fight for diplomatic and strategic influence.

Initially, Japan's strategy was to partner with international agencies in the UN system or the World Bank and the IMF, to part-fund projects and programmes in Africa, burnishing its credentials as a good international citizen and, perhaps, its case for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
However, it wasn't until the exponential growth in China's business in Africa that Tokyo really started paying attention.

Japan is also upping its game in Africa on trade, registering a near 9% increase last year. But investment is lagging badly. This week's meeting, attended by a dozen African leaders, has established a permanent council to coordinate corporate efforts to get a bigger share of the African market with the Japanese government. Beyond the yen and dollars, Tokyo is playing another game, teaming up with India and willing African partners to create the 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific' region. Stripped of the warm words, it is a cut-price competitor to Beijing's Belt and Road initiative. With New Delhi's support, it carries some demographic heft.