Can Japan make its presence felt in Africa?
17 September 2016
Authors: Brittany Morreale, University of Adelaide and Purnendra Jain, University of Adelaide
Africa is becoming a new strategic playground where economic and geopolitical rivalry between Asian powers compels Japan to compete in a contemporary struggle for influence. Japan’s decision to hold the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) on African soil in August 2016 — for the first time in TICAD’s 23-year history — is just one example of its invigorated engagement with the region.
China has already identified Kenya as a key hub of its ‘Maritime Silk Road’, forcing Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to present his own vision of Africa ripe with economic potential, political dividends and international leverage. At the 2015 Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, Chinese President Xi Jinping boldly committed US$60 billion in development investment to Africa. The pledge has no definitive timeline, but an action plan marks 2020 as a milestone for specific trade, investment and infrastructure goals. In Nairobi, Abe similarly committed US$30 billion over three years, a clear signal that Japan is willing to go head-to-head with China in the African ‘aid game’.
As Japan challenges Chinese influence on the continent, Africa stands to benefit from a windfall of investment. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s comments at TICAD VI acknowledged this sentiment when he stated ‘the landscape across the continent is rapidly changing: investments in infrastructure, energy and education are unlocking the value of Africa’s abundant natural resources. And as this mammoth continent moves, it is sending shockwaves throughout the world’.
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