Africa has recently become the “biggest frontier of the 21st century,” drawing attention from many developed countries such as China and Japan. But if Beijing bets on BRI’s massive projects, Tokyo chooses to focus on providing quality services
Being targeted as a third-world continent for years, Africa detains one of the highest economic growth potentials, as various reports including those of the United Nations have often revealed. It is, therefore, a region of interest for many foreign countries and companies, especially for those coming from the far East like China and now even Japan.
One of the most appealing aspects of Africa is surely its youthful population, which is forecasted to double from 1.25 billion in 2017 to 2.5 billion by 2050. Even though, it still lacks a sufficient number of qualified human resources and reliable infrastructures.
However, through partnerships with other nations, African countries are very likable to create an alternative development model, turning into a key battleground for Asia to extend its influence. Therefore, after China’s BRI ambition to link emerging markets with hi-tech telecommunications hardware infrastructure that has boosted Africa’s digital development, it is now time for Japan to work together on social and economic fronts.
© Pexels. Africa’s youth is a driving force for growth. Training them is beneficial for both Africa and major economies looking for business partners in emerging markets.
Japan and its private sectors are known for their ability to take up a new technology and tailor it to fit local needs and conditions. However, its population’s decline among the fastest in the world makes the country hungry for young talents to train and with whom develop new ideas and technologies.
In Africa, Japan pursues two major approaches while relating to the countries, namely the “quality growth” and the “human security” approach. These two means to reach achievements in Africa include sustainability projects as well as inclusiveness with a particular focus on each individual in the continent.
In order to support the “quality growth” in Africa, the Land of the Rising Sun is promoting infrastructure investment, making full use of Japan’s sophisticated technologies. For what concerns the promotion of “human security,” instead, Japan is working on training the youth, implementing numerous measures to achieve the empowerment of African people in order to lead the continent towards an autonomous growth.
The symbol of friendship between Africa and Japan is the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Initiated by the government of Japan in 1993, TICAD is a multilateral and international forum that focuses on African development.
The 7th edition of the TICAD opened in Yokohama on August 28. According to Japanese officials, compared to previous editions, last TICAD has been re-designed to become more business-oriented. A plenary meeting on Thursday was attended by private-sector business leaders from both Japan and Africa for the first time, indeed. But the last three-day summit meeting also revealed a certain concern of Japan about China’s presence in Africa.
Over the past 10 years, China has emerged as a powerful political and economic player here, already having surpassed Japan by far in terms of both government development assistance and private-sector investment. Therefore, Tokyo now bets on the provision of quality services to stand out from the Middle Kingdom, which is perceived as the greatest rival in the continent.
© Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya. 7th TICAD, Yokohama, Japan. Currently, TICAD’s No. 1 agenda is how to bring Japanese private-sector businesses to Africa.
One of the quality services provided by a Japanese private company is the development of an e-Bank in offline villages of Mozambique. Here, Nippon Biodiesel Fuel (NBF), a Japanese biofuel startup, introduced an electronic money system at a kiosk shop in a remote village where customers can charge their farm income to their IC cards – IC being short for “integrated circuit” – or prepaid cards.
From installing a charging point, NBF has now also partnered with a Vietnamese mobile phone company to establish an alternative financial system. The idea is not only to provide the e-Bank service but also to offer a financial tool to make farmers familiarizing with an e-money system and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
In Mozambique, almost 80% of the adult population does not have access to formal banking services. Charging IC cards is, therefore, the safest way for them to store their income.
An example of African countries partnering with Japanese companies to solve local problems is the use of drones in Ghana. The Ghana Highway Authority (GHA) has worked with the Japanese ICT startup CLUE, which has developed a tablet-based drone software and a cloud-based data management platform.
Although Ghana is one of the fastest-growing countries in West Africa, its economic development is challenged by its shattered road network, which slows down the transportation of both goods and people. The use of drones can detect and define road problems in a much quicker and more accurate way than physical checks and hand-written reports.
Under its agreement with GHA, CLUE offers its software, provides on-the-job training to local engineers, and collaborates on-road inspection and data management. Currently, a trial phase has covered the Greater Accra Region but GHA aims to introduce the system nationwide.
In Japan, 62% of KIC’s overseas students from 64 countries and regions are Africans, the majority of whom are now taking part in the development of the ICT sector in their home countries.
Nevertheless, Japan is not offering only on-the-job training. The Kobe Institute of Computing-Graduate School of Information Technology (KIC), a college located in central Japan’s Kobe City, has become a center of ICT education for overseas students, especially from Africa.
In 2017, KIC launched a distant learning course program with the support of the municipal governments of Kobe and Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. This training model is developed to reach out to a larger number of local youths looking for training opportunities, therefore, providing Japan with a trained driving force for future business collaborations.
© Unsplash. Kumasi, Ghana. Africa’s fast development, as well as the booming of its business activities, make the continent the “biggest frontier of the 21st century.”
Compared to the only 800 Japanese firms having offices in Africa and to the 8,000 Japanese people living in the continent, China is many steps ahead of the Land of the Rising Sun. Indeed, more than 3,700 Chinese firms have already advanced into Africa and about 1 million Chinese people are reportedly living here.
Moreover, the Dragon’s hi-tech firms such as Alibaba are setting the model for African e-commerce while Jack Ma is promoting the local economic development by launching the Netpreneur Prize to support exemplary African business leaders.
At the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China’s President Xi Jinping also confirmed that the leaders unanimously decided to build a China-Africa community with a shared future in which FOCAC represents a mark of solidarity and cooperation between China and Africa, guiding them in compliance with the principle of consultation, cooperation, and benefits for all.
“The vigorous development of China-Africa cooperation has not only promoted the progress of the African continent but has also inspired international partners to pay more attention to Africa and increase their contribution and cooperation with the continent,” Xi said
This huge gap is driving Tokyo to focus on the quality instead of quantity of Japanese assistance to African countries with particular attention to human resources development. But its efforts in the continent only seem to replicate Chinese foreign policies in order to achieve some of the successes that brought the PRC to sit at the table of international powers.
Embracing a population of more than 1.2 billion in 54 countries and hosting both huge market potential and abundant natural resources, Africa is drawing attention from the international community as the “biggest frontier of the 21st century.” Therefore, China and Japan are not the only players involved in the country, Russia’s presence here is growing as well.
However, for what concerns the Sino-Japanese competition in Africa, it may be too late for Japanese firms to finally get serious about African business opportunities, given the massive presence of the Chinese government and businesses. But Japan’s effort to win over the market can only lead to Africa’s dynamic growth while providing Japan with young partners that can benefit both parties.
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