The Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7), held on 28-30 August 2019 in Yokohama, was a new effort by Japan to enhance its engagement with Africa. The emphasis was on development and reassessing the success of its Overseas Development Assistance-led model, but TICAD 7 departed from its predecessors in several ways.
Tokyo is reorienting its perceptions about competition from China. It decided that it would not announce how many heads of state and government from Africa were participating (20 were present), thus preventing a critical comparison with the numbers of such dignitaries present at the China Africa Forum (FOCAC), where the participant list becomes a point of hard-sell to show the immense influence China has in Africa. For example, TICAD 1, in 1993, had 48 African countries participating, but only six sent high-level delegations, with most being led by ministers. At TICAD II in 1998, 14 high-ranking dignitaries from 50 countries participated. TICAD III (in 2003) onwards, no list of participants was issued, but inevitably, the media kept count of the number of heads of state or government present.
The Japanese were apprehensive that if too many announcements were made by African leaders regarding their participation in TICAD, some of them may face pressure from China regarding their offers of support for the Belt and Road Initiative and be persuaded to stay away. The deliberations therefore were redirected to private sector engagement, with a clear distinction being made between the encouragement of open market arrangements and the efforts of Chinese state-owned businesses with their raising of predatory debt. Several participants focused on the better business environment in Africa, its lower risk perspective, good growth rates and the growth of markets.
China was not invited, but its presence loomed large as people tried to count the number of its delegations, who was heading them, and how much Japan will now commit to Africa.
Japan, to further deter the inevitable comparisons with its competitor, made no new announcements of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). It was showing a renewed intent to work in Africa, including trilaterally with partners. In contrast, at TICAD IV, 2007, Japan had vowed to double its ODA to Africa from $0.9 billion; by 2011 the sum had reached $1.8 billion, rising rapidly to $3.33 billion by March 2012. In 2003, Japan pledged $32 billion, and at TICAD VI in Nairobi, a further $30 billion.
The focus now was on deepening the Japanese private sector’s engagement in Africa. This was evident from the supportive business ambience that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN), were keen to create. Most noteworthy among the new initiatives at TICAD 7 was the first ever Business Forum with the private sector from Japan and Africa. Japanese and African leaders were present and it was well integrated into the summit. The scope of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) was also explored; the government of Japan tasked its financial institutions to stand by Japanese companies who may want to undertake projects in Africa.
Many agreements were signed. Toyota Tsusho Corporation signed 16 with eight countries and several agencies. Of the 16, three were for automotive industrial development, four for next-generation mobility, three for renewable energies and two for the modernisation of agriculture and fishery sectors. According to a JETRO spokesman, over 150 Japanese companies were interested in entering the African market, thus encouraging the organisation to hold the first Japan Africa Business Forum and Exhibition.
Africa is becoming the flavour of the year. After the wide focus on globalisation, trade and the environment at the G20 Osaka Summit, it has been receiving only periodic coverage. TICAD 7 was held midway between some of the major summits with Africa: for example, FOCAC held its meeting in 2018; the Russians will hold their first summit in October 2019. Turkey will also hold its Third Summit with Africa in 2019 and the India Africa Forum Summit IV will take place in 2020.
Japan, which has been holding TICAD meetings with Africa since 1993, was the first to host such a summit with Africa as a whole. At first held every five years, in 2016 it was converted into a triennial (once in three years) event, to be hosted alternately in Japan and Africa. (The TICAD VI was therefore held in Kenya in 2016.)
Japan hosts TICAD and the United Nations, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank, co-organise it so that the focus is less on political affiliation and more on functional cooperation. It should be so, ideally, but it was only since 2015 that the African Union Commission (AUC) was admitted into this hosts’ enclave. The presence of the high-profile, World Bank-affiliated bodies also tends to deprive the African delegations of exclusive attention. TICAD 7 scored high with AUC Chairperson, Egyptian president General Sisi getting prominence as the chief guest. The new prime minister of Ethiopia was a late, but welcome, participant. President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta was there too. TICAD is now more of an open forum for those interested in African development and invites civil society organisations and private sector companies.
India and TICAD
India has rarely officially participated in TICAD’s processes because rather than plurilateral approaches into Africa, it has preferred its own bilateral engagement. It is only in the last few years that it has stepped forward to discuss Africa with other friendly countries in tandem with its expanding Africa policy.
Among the first countries India collaborated with was Japan with whom a Vision Document on the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)  was jointly enunciated. Even though both India and Japan built on opportunities to collaborate in Africa without furthering the AAGC concept, Japan invited India to participate in the Business Forum. Japan has made steady progress in contacting Indian companies through the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and ensuring their participation in the Indian business conclaves with Africa. India was present at TICAD 7 with Turkey. The CII, which had a booth in association with JETRO, was visible at the business sector meetings.
Another Indian presence was in the startup space where a representative of the Aavishkar- Intellecap group was invited to talk to Japanese and African startups and mentor them. Ten African startups from seven countries were invited to the Africa Startups Pitch to find new market development partners.
A report on trilateral cooperation in Africa, brought out by the CII in March 2019, recommended that India and Japan work more on the B2B connection in Africa and also promote more digital cooperation, including startups. This line of engagement by India at TICAD 7 perhaps set the tone for future possibilities.
Several Indian business representatives at TICAD said that greater clarity from the Japanese side on the projects they wanted to pursue in Africa will help Indian companies fine-tune their pitch to them, but the decision on projects is likely be made by Japanese companies: the focus of Indian industry must lie there.
Gurjit Singh is a former Indian Ambassador to Germany. He is currently the Chair of the CII Task Force on the Asia Africa Growth Corridor and Professor at the IIT, Indore.
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