From Tokyo with love

THIS is the title of a 1964 Philippino action, romance movie written by Rizal Esteban and Jose Leonardo and directed by Conrado Conde. It stars Lolita Rodrigeuz, Ric Rodrigo, Josephine Estrada, Vic Vargas, Rosemarie Sonora and Dindo Fernado as main cast and among these six, was suspense, intrigue, hate, fear and the deadly gift of love from Japan.

Thoughts of the movie flooded into my mind when I heard Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, speak at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) which took place over the last weekend in Nairobi, Kenya. President Muhammadu Buhari was there along with other African leaders, hoping to hear what new Japan had in stock for Africa. After two days of jaw-jaw, the Prime Minister dropped his largesse. It was a handsome sum of $30billion in public and private support for infrastructure development, education and healthcare expansion on the continent in the next three years.

The characters in this movie maybe Japan on the one hand and African countries who are the recipients of the romance, on the other hand.  But those at the core of its suspense, hate and intrigues are not more than Japan and China. Japan has a good presence in Africa, but in terms of financial importance to the continent, it lags behind its regional rival, China which, as the world’s second-largest economy, recorded total trade with Africa of about $179 billion in 2015, dwarfing Japan’s approximately $24 billion.

Abe is conscious of the fact that Japan cannot compete with China in terms of its financial importance in Africa and has consequently steered Japan to the sensible path of selling the message of quality to trump the quantity offered by China in the battle for influence.

Thus, Japan aims to use TICAD to get its slice of the African pie, a continent that Japan obviously considers a frontier of new possibilities which the country and its companies can grow vigorously. So, Abe’s key message in this efforts was: “It is Japanese companies that are committed to quality. Theirs is a manufacturing philosophy that holds each individual worker in high esteem. Our hunch is that the time has come to make the best of Japan’s capabilities, Japanese companies’ capabilities, for the advancement of Africa, where you seek nothing but quality in your socio-economic development. We must not let a good opportunity slip away.”

Japan set up TICAD in 1993 and so, it was in the game early enough. But other powerful blocks like the European Union (EU), China, India and Turkey have similar ventures with Africa  and are quite active. They are not only interested in how they can help the continent to achieve its full potentials but also in what they can take away. That explains why the Japanese leader was accompanied by some 70 Japanese companies executives to the Nairobi TICAD meeting.

The problem of security in Africa though, has the capability of dampening enthusiasm for investors. But President Buhari and TICAD VI host President, Uhuru Kenyatta, sought to allay this fear. Keen to point out that there are many areas ripe for cooperation, including Industries, Agriculture, Information Technology, Science and Technology, among others that would be of great benefits to Africa and to investors from Japan, Buhari, who also stressed that his government had already taken concrete steps to diversify the economy by making agriculture not just a development programme but a thriving business, gave assurances on the security situation on the continent. “Unfortunately, as we square up to tackle the challenge of overcoming the impact of the global economic down-turn, a number of countries including Nigeria have the additional challenge of having to grapple with terror and insurgency,” he noted, that the President told the gathering that with the support of neighbouring countries and other international partners such as Japan, Boko Haram has been decimated and life returning to normalcy in the areas where the terrorist group once held sway.

Uhuru, on his part, highlighted the importance of security to achieving sustained growth, as he noted the unique security threats rising to fill any vacuum in governance at the local, regional and global level. He was alarmed that terrorism in particular was threatening and even dismembering some states. “The terrorists are adept at exploiting open and democratic societies, and are trying to militarize any sectarian or political divide. Their negative impact on economies is often severe, as we have experienced here in Kenya across Africa and the world,” he said but assured, “We are facing and suppressing terrorist groups here in Kenya.”

But it seems Japan is prepared to ignore Africa’s daunting security issues in this supremacy intrigue with China on the continent. The love from Tokyo therefore, can only offer a win-win situation for Africa and Africans.