Since Japan launched the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 1993, many African countries have seen remarkable economic growth, transforming themselves from aid recipients to attractive markets.
Given such changing circumstances, African participants hope to see discussion on Africa’s economic stability and development take center stage during TICAD 7 that is set to be held in Yokohama between Aug. 28 and 30.
“I believe that this summit will be a turning point in the relationship between Japan and Africa as it represents an excellent opportunity for a smooth transition from a relation based mainly on official development assistance toward more diverse ties in trade and investment,” Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Ayman Aly Kamel said during a recent interview with The Japan Times. Egypt is the chair of the African Union this year, and co-chair of TICAD 7.
Noting that Africa has managed to control a lot of political instability over the past two decades since the launch of the TICAD process, Kamel said the state of security, peace and stability on the continent is much better today. He explained that such changes allow them to focus more on investment and trade.
“Africa now is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. It possesses a huge potential of natural resources, as well as a very young — and one of the fastest-growing — populations in the world,” Kamel said. “This fact represents a great opportunity for Japan to benefit from the African continent as an investment partner in the future.”
Africa’s population is projected to exceed 2 billion by 2050 according to a U.N. report, accounting for roughly a quarter of the world population. Africans are also young, with the median age of the continent projected to be under 20 in 2020.
Although Japanese companies have turned their eyes to the expanding market and growing labor force in Africa over the past decade, their presence remains small in the region, Kamel said.
According to Foreign Ministry data, there were 75,531 Japanese corporate offices overseas as of October 2017. Of those, 796, or roughly just 1 percent, were located in Africa.
“There is still an excellent chance for Japanese companies to fulfill the need for more investments in Africa in all major sectors,” Kamel said. “Although Japan was one of the first pioneering countries to engage in relations with Africa, it now lags behind in terms of business and the number of companies that are working in the African markets.”
This is partly due, Kamel said, to the role of some media sources portraying primarily negative aspects of the African continent, without reflecting the reality of ongoing developments in modern Africa.
“I think it’s time now for the Japanese private sector to overcome those past concerns and try to benefit from the experience of some countries who already have a presence in Africa … and try to extend the Japanese presence on the African continent,” he said.
Given Africa’s growing population and wealth of natural resources, such as oil, natural gas and rare metals, many countries have launched conferences similar to TICAD in the past two decades, including China’s triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) launched in 2000 and the Russia-Africa Summit that is scheduled to be launched in Sochi in October.
TICAD, however, is unique compared to other multilateral or bilateral cooperation forums, Kamel said. This is because the forum is built on the principles of African ownership and international partnership, and is co-organized by international organizations such as the U.N. and World Bank.
“TICAD is not just about Japan and its interests in Africa. It also ensures the presence of other stakeholders that look after the development of African nations,” Kamel said. “This forum is one of the most appreciated platforms by African countries, as it is based on the great potential for cooperation between Japan and Africa. … We have a lot of hope that the summit could represent a milestone in cooperation between Japan and the African continent.”