Tokyo International Conference on African Development 2019 (Ticad VII) uniqueness lies in “inclusiveness and openness, African ownership and follow-up mechanism”. Continent needs around $1 trillion for development, which African governments cannot afford.

China and the US have been battling for influence and financing of African development, but Japan, among other advanced states, is also making its presence felt.

In what some have termed the second scramble for Africa, Japan’s intensified activities in the continent have not left Kenya behind. This is in an attempt to bridge the development gap in Africa, which McKinsey estimates needs around $1 trillion, which African governments cannot afford.

For the first time, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development was held in Nairobi in 2016. This was the sixth edition, the preceding ones having been held in Japan.

In Ticad VI, Japan committed to investing in Africa by “supporting quality infrastructure, building a resilient health system and consolidating peace and stability from 2016 to 2018”. This year, Ticad VII is back to Japan between August 28-30 in Yokohama under the theme, “Africa and Yokohama, Sharing Passion for the Future”.

This follows the seventh edition of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September 2018. The Corporate Council on Africa and the government of Mozambique also hosted the US-Africa Business Summit on June 18-21 this year in Maputo.

Russia also has a strategy to redress the global balance of power by countering America’s influence in Africa and trying to match China’s large economic footprint on the continent, according to János Besenyő, Associate Professor at Óbuda University.

Japan Activities in Africa

Although the flurry of activities by Japan in various African countries cannot go unnoticed, their presence in Africa goes way back. It has diplomatic missions in at least 36 countries and introduced Ticad in 1993, which was co-hosted with the UN and the Global Coalition for Africa. Forty-eight African countries attended.

Journalists covering the Japanese Foreign Affairs ministry acknowledged this competition in a discussion with visiting African reporters and editors, but noted Tokyo is more about quality than quantity, in comparison with the Chinese.

However, African Affairs Senior Deputy Director Shigeru Hamano said there is no competition between China and Japan.

“Ticad is actually older in Africa, having established in 1993, soon after the Cold War,” Shigeru said.

“Japan needs trade and in doing this, it is helping African states to be self-reliant so it can also have an international market”.

African Affairs director-general Shigeru Ushio, the Ticad VII Secretary General, said Ticad’s uniqueness lies in “pioneering, inclusiveness and openness, African ownership and follow-up mechanism”.

But Prof Kenichi Ono of National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies said Ticad is a political platform to advance Japan’s diplomacy.

It is, however, the raid of the continent by China and reaction by other global powers such as the US and Russia that creates the impression that Japan is joining in the party.

Since China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 to improve intercontinental connectivity and cooperation, its activities in Africa has been rapid.

And although the East African region has been the main focus of Belt and Road in Africa, Chinese infrastructure projects are in Zambia, Angola and Nigeria, with ports planned along the coast from Dakar to Libreville and Lagos. Beijing has also signalled its support for the African Union’s proposed pan-African high-speed rail network.

In Kenya, the standard gauge railway is the Chinese biggest investment in the country. The Chinese are also undertaking various roads projects in the country.

But while Japanese government officials deny there is rivalry with the Chinese, they have what they call Japan’s Connectivity Initiative, which has transport corridors in Africa and Asia.

During his address at Ticad VI in Nairobi, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe talked about his vision for “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, as “ a key for stability and prosperity of the international community”.

He proposed combining two continents Africa and Asia and two oceans Pacific and Indian oceans to develop “a free and open Indo-Pacific region as international public goods”.

In Kenya, for example, they have the Japan International Cooperation Agency working in the Mombasa Port, the Northern Corridor and the Fourth Trans-African Highway, a 6,259km highway between Mombasa port and Lagos, Nigeria, which was mooted in 1971. This was to facilitate the movement of cargo from the Mombasa Port to Nigeria, and in the countries through which the road passes.

National Treasury CS Henry Rotich said Japan’s development cooperation growth portfolio to Kenya stands at Sh469.5 billion. He said some of the projects that have benefited from the Japanese development assistance include JKUAT and Kenya Medical Research Institute.

In its Transport and Comprehensive Corridor Development is the Central Corridor in East Africa, Nacala Corridor in South-Eastern Africa and West Africa Growth Ring.

In Mombasa, Japan developed the port master plan, including Dongo Kundu, which was completed in 2015, and the port development itself in phase one (completed in 2016) and phase two, which is ongoing.

It also offered technical support in the formulation of the development plan for the Mombasa Gate City completed in 2017. The Japanese through a loan also did the Mombasa Gate Bridge.

“Projects currently under construction through funding from Japanese government are Mombasa Port Area Road Development Project, Mombasa Port Development Project Phase 1, Baringo and Narok towns water supply, Mwea Irrigation Development Project, Olkaria I (4) Geothermal Power project and Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu Power transmission line,” Rotich said at the Treasury during the signing Ceremony for Exchange of Notes for Health Sector Support Programme.

Other projects are the construction of the Nairobi Missing Road Links Project. A Japanese contractor won the dualing of Ngong Road.

It has also provided support for 14 one-stop border posts between Kenya and Uganda at Busia, Malaba and Busia and Kenya and Tanzania at Namanga, Taveta/Holili and Lungalunga/Hololo

And while Japan has Jica as its development agency, China has China International Development Cooperation Agency, America has USAid, Britain has UKAId, while France has Agence Française de Développement.

But while China’s development has largely been premised on loans, Japan opts for grants and public-private partnerships.

There have been concerns about Chinese loans in Africa, especially here in Kenya. The Centre for Global Development, for instance, reported that Djibouti was among eight Belt and Road countries significantly vulnerable to debt distress from the loans.

IMF statistics show Djibouti’s public external debt increased from 50 per cent to 85 per cent of GDP in only two years. It’s not different in Kenya. A report by CADMT showed China is Kenya’s highest lender, accounting for 72 per cent of all its bilateral debts.

“The country is set to spend a staggering Sh800 billion this year to service its debt, becoming the third-most indebted country behind Angola and Ethiopia,” the report said.


During the fifth Ticad in 2013, Japan recognised the need for human resource development in public and private sectors in Africa to cultivate a “strong human network between Japan and Africa”.

Consequently, Japan launched the African Business Education Initiative. ABE initiative is a five-year plan that provides 1,000 youths in Africa with opportunities to study for a Master’s degree and intern in Japan. Prior to that, there was the Jica scholarship programme, which trains and transfers knowledge and skills to foreign students.

This is reminiscent of the African Students Airlift to America in the 1960s, a brainchild of Tom Mboya. The programme was to equip Kenyans with knowledge and skills at higher education level to run the government after independence.

In Japan’s case, beneficiaries of this scholarship are required to return and develop their respective countries and promote business for the Japanese companies.

One such beneficiary is Kevin Mutai, formerly of Jkuat. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Communications Engineering at Tohoku University in Sendai under the MEXT scholarship.

“All recipients of this and other Japanese scholarships are expected to strengthen ties between their home countries and Japan and foster cooperation on academic, professional and personal levels,” he said at a meeting with Miyagi Africa Association.

“I believe the Japanese government offers these opportunities to learn from other nations and also allow other nations to learn from Japan.”

Japan has also invested in various institutions of higher learning in Kenya. Jkuat, for instance, was established through technical bilateral cooperation in 1981.

However, during a discussion between foreign journalists and ABE graduate students of the International University of Japan, some said although they want to come back to Africa, they fear or are sure they won’t get an opportunity back in their countries.

They said governments in Africa are either disinterested in having them in policy and decision-making platforms or don’t know how to make use of this human resource.

So, some say they prefer remaining in Japan and work to help bridge Africa-Japan gap from there, rather than go back home and their education goes to waste.


Kenya’s exports to Japan (cut flower, tea, coffee, fish fillet, nuts raw tobacco, sisal and textile fibres) stand at around Sh6 billion, while imports from Japan (second-hand vehicles, trucks, steel and machinery) are about Sh80.7 billion.

To address the glaring trade imbalance, President Uhuru Kenyatta is on record saying Japan should increase its imports of Kenyan flowers by dealing directly with Kenyan investors instead of European auctions, which leads to delays.

The President also called for direct flights between Nairobi and Tokyo to boost bilateral trade and tourism. Japan has granted Kenya landing rights at the Haneda International Airport.

“Our two governments will need to address the matter, if we are to enhance our business engagements,” President Kenyatta told the Kenya-Japan Business Forum in Tokyo.

Kenya’s embassy in Japan says it is working to bridge the trade imbalance.

“First, we are focusing on broadening understanding of Trade market opportunities in Japan for Kenyan products to diversify Kenya’s exports to the Japan market,” Amb SK Maina said.

“Towards this, we have also been conducting market surveys and trade fairs for Kenyan products and creating awareness among Kenyan exporters on opportunities that exist.”

Maina said they have identified potential export products to Japan, such as avocado, broccoli, French beans, mangoes and octopus.

“We are pushing hard to have them enter the Japanese market. Already, the first consignment of octopuses from Kenya was received in Japan in April,” he said.

He, however, said despite the embassy’s concerted efforts to attract more companies to participate in the fairs and exhibitions, there is minimal participation due to the cost of participation and lack of provision in their budgets.

Japan External Trade Organisation says more than 150 Japanese companies targeting to establish in Africa will showcase at Ticad VII.

However, Middle East and Africa Deputy Director Sawaka Takazaki said companies fear the risk involved with the poor communication or implementation of new laws in Kenya, affecting Japan’s trade policy.

“Elections are also a major challenge, especially when they become violent and create instability, thus affecting these companies’ profits,” Sawaka said. This is despite Uhuru in 2015 saying Kenya is ready to facilitate trade enquiries, product promotion fairs and investment forums.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.