What does Japan want from Africa?

3-25-japanafricaOne of the most profound changes to the world in the past decade has been vast Chinese investment into Africa. It has exceeded 100 billion US dollars and the money has stimulated development across the continent, lifting millions of Africans out of extreme poverty.

Yet Chinese state media says that the country’s investment into Africa declined by 40 percent last year. That is partly as a result of slowing economic growth in China but also because of lower commodity prices.

So could Japan step in to fill the shoes of China? The Chinese investment still far exceeds that of Japan. But this year, Japan is promoting projects in Africa which will benefit its own international businesses.

For example, Marubeni recently announced that it plans to build a new power station in Egypt – a classic example of a big infrastructure project backed by loans by the Japanese government. It is also the kind of project where Japan and China are seen as rivals.

Foreign expertise in power generation is welcome in Africa, where electricity shortages are a serious problem.

Shinzo Abe will talk about Japan’s role in Africa when he visits Kenya later this year. And in late August, Japan will host the TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) in Nairobi.

This Japanese activity in Africa can annoy China. There have been occasions where the Chinese have tried to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment among the Africans. And as the Japan Times recently pointed out, China’s propaganda ministry tries to use the African media to present China in the best possible light.

However, both the Japanese and the Chinese want peace and stability in Africa because that helps safeguard their investments. Japan places special emphasis on quality growth and human security.

This week, I asked the CEO of Sumitomo Corporation for Europe and Africa, Mr Kiyoshi Sunobe, if the Japanese view on Africa was changing because of the slowdown in Chinese investment.

He told me that fall in commodity prices was a much more significant influence on Japanese investment decisions.

His answer reminded me that the prices of oil and metals such as iron ore, copper, and platinum all declined substantially last year and the people who will feel the impact the most are the people living in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank Economic Outlook report for the region says its economic activity decelerated from 4.6 percent in 2014 to 3.4 percent in 2015, the weakest performance since 2009.

Sadly for the Africans, that means the gains in income from abroad they have enjoyed in recent years will be very hard to maintain, regardless of any actions by China or Japan.

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日本はこの投資ギャップを埋めることができるのだろうか。中国の投資額は日本の対アフリカ投資を大きく上回っているが、今年に入り、日本政府はアフリカ案件を促進。 日本の海外事業は恐らく恩恵を受けることになるだろう。



今年末ケニアにて、安倍首相はアフリカ での日本の役割に関して協議する予定であり、8月末にはナイロビでTICAD(アフリカ開発会議)を開催する。

過去にアフリカで反日を説いた経緯がある中国からは、今後も日本批判が出てくる事は予想される。ジャパンタイムズ紙は、中国がアフリカのメディアを通して、自国 を有利にさせる作戦を取っていると報じている。だが、両国とも、投資のためにも、アフリカには平和と安定を望んでいる。特に日本はアフリカの安定的な伸びと国民の安全保障に注力している。

今週、欧州住友商事グループCEOの須之部  潔氏を取材した。中国投資が減速している中、アフリカに対しての日本の見解に変更がないか問うたが、日本からの投資判断はコモディティ価格をより優先していると指摘。彼のコメントは去年の原油や鉄鉱石、銅、プラチナ等の金属価格の大きな下落によって一番大きく影響受けるであろうサハラ以南のアフリカの人々を思い起こさせる物であった。


残念ながら、中国や日本の動向にかかわらず、アフリカが近年享受してきたような海外からの恩恵を維持するのは 難しいと予測される。