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After recent years of growth, Japanese companies’ expansion into Africa is hitting a wall, dampened by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the resignation of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The pandemic has brought activities to a halt due to travel restrictions.

Abe, who had pushed for businesses’ expansion into Africa, has abruptly stepped down for ill health. One development consultant is worried, saying that “the political driving force may be lost.”

Before the pandemic, Africa, as a “last frontier,” had attracted investment from the rest of the world and continued steady economic growth.

At the Tokyo International Conference on African Development held in Yokohama in August 2019, Abe pledged to take every possible measure to help companies advance into Africa.

Under the government’s initiative, businesses had shown growing interest in Africa.

However, many companies have withdrawn representatives from Africa due to the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

By contrast, European and Chinese companies are continuing their operations in Africa as they arrived in the continent earlier than Japanese companies and developed solid local business networks.

“It is certain that the presence of Japan in Africa will drop due to the coronavirus crisis,” Jun Hirabayashi, director of Tokyo-based consulting company Qunie Corp., said.

In the meantime, online seminars on business in Africa have attracted attention in Japan. About 160 people, including representatives from a range of companies, attended a seminar on Nigeria organized by the U.N. Industrial Development Organization on Wednesday.

At the seminar, Yewande Sadiku, executive secretary and CEO of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, highlighted the attraction of Nigeria as an investment destination. She said Nigeria has the largest population and economic scale among African nations, adding that the country will have the world’s third-largest population by 2050.

Via the chat function, seminar participants asked questions about local electricity and telecommunications environments and import restrictions.

Thanks to the online system, the number of seminar participants has increased, an official of UNIDO said.

The Japan External Trade Organization plans to hold four online business meetings on Africa in medical, environment and two other fields between September and January next year, in an effort to connect businesses with African companies even amid the coronavirus crisis.

“Japanese companies’ enthusiasm about business in Africa has not weakened,” Osamu Kubota, executive vice president of JETRO, said.

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