TICAD VI and Japan’s New Foreign Policy Strategy


The sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development was the first to be held in Africa, taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 27–28. Seeking to raise Japan’s profile on the continent and to achieve new foreign policy objectives, Prime Minister Abe unveiled a $30 billion package of public and private investment in Africa.

The First TICAD in Africa

The sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development was held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on August 27–28. The summit, the first to be held outside Japan, closed with the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration and Nairobi Implementation Plan that set forth goals for sustainable development on the continent. TICAD was launched in 1993 and has been held in Japan every five years. This year’s gathering was the first under a new system of alternate hosting in Japan and Africa every three years.

TICAD brings together top leaders from around the continent and is based on a multilateral structure under the lead of the Japanese government. It is co-organized with institutions in Africa and such international organizations as the United Nations and the World Bank. This strategic involvement of diverse partners played a vital role in establishing the summit’s alternate hosting structure.

The Global Coalition for Africa, a forum of African leaders, was a co-organizer for the first three conferences. After the GCA was dissolved in September 2007, the AU Commission, the executive organ of the African Union, emerged as a candidate to take GCA’s place as co-host.

The AUC at the time was the co-organizer of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Africa-EU Summit and was looking to Japan to secure further support for development initiatives. The AU’s main focus had traditionally been security issues, but when it integrated the New Partnership for Africa’s Development into its structure in January 2010, it began to deepen its involvement in development issues as well. Taking note of the importance of the AU, Japan decided to partner with the organization and agreed in August—during a visit to Japan by then AUC Chair Jean Ping—for the AUC to serve as co-organizer.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, a former South African foreign minister who took over as AUC chair in July 2012, expressed at TICAD V in June 2013 a strong desire to host the event in Africa. Negotiations were held at a meeting between Zuma and Abe Shinzō during the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Africa in January 2014 and at the TICAD V ministers’ meeting in May of that year. In June the AU adopted a resolution asserting its hopes of holding a TICAD in Africa and establishing a three-year rotating schedule for hosting. In September 2015, during an address at the second Japan-African Regional Economic Communities Summit Roundtable held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly, Abe spoke openly of the new hosting plan. And in February 2016 Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide formally announced at a press conference that TICAD VI would be held in Kenya and that subsequent summits would follow the three-year alternate hosting system.

Meeting New Challenges

In explaining the significance of holding TICAD in Africa, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed Africa’s mounting sense of ownership, which the AUC seeks to strengthen. The ministry also pointed to the role the summit plays in drawing attention to Japan’s contributions to African development and promoting the country’s image to people in Africa and further abroad.

The climate surrounding Africa has changed dramatically since the last summit in 2013. Growth on the continent has slowed due to a decline in global commodity prices, brought on by an easing of growth in China and elsewhere; the Ebola outbreak has exposed vulnerabilities in the public health system; and there is expanding violence and radicalization in West and Northeast Africa. To respond to these challenges, TICAD VI focused on assistance measures marked by greater flexibility and effectiveness.

The main achievements of the conference, as laid out in the Nairobi Declaration and Nairobi Implementation Plan, are measures to address these priority areas around three pillars. The first pillar seeks to promote structural economic transformation through diversification and industrialization in an effort to reduce the continent’s reliance on primary commodities by developing quality infrastructure and human resources. The second pillar focuses on enhanced cooperation toward the achievement of universal health coverage to promote resilient health systems for quality of life. And the third pillar of promoting social stability for shared prosperity addresses the need for a comprehensive response to security concerns. Prime Minister Abe pledged a combined $30 billion in public and private Japanese investment over the next three years covering a broad range of issues around each pillar. The challenge henceforth will be for policymakers to implement the measures that will be needed to make the most of these investments.

Another significant outcome of the summit was the opportunity for Japanese companies to connect directly with people and businesses in Africa. A Japan Fair featuring exhibits by 84 Japanese companies and organizations, held with the aim of increasing the presence of Japanese firms on the continent, led to the signing of 73 memorandums of understanding between 22 Japanese organizations and their African counterparts. Holding TICAD in Africa thus contributed greatly to the establishment of a public-private framework for new corporate investment.

Countering Chinese Influence

Along with highlighting Japan’s commitment to African development, TICAD VI was also clearly intended to counter China’s growing influence. In his opening remarks at the conference, Abe said, “Japan bears the responsibility of fostering the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and of Asia and Africa into a place that values freedom, the rule of law, and the market economy, free from force or coercion, and making it prosperous.” Without mentioning China by name, Abe’s new diplomatic strategy of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific is an open reference to Beijing’s recent aggressive maritime activities.

Japan has watched China’s diplomatic influence in Africa grow since TICAD IV in 2008, and Abe’s comments in Nairobi suggest that he intends to strategically reposition the continent in Japan’s foreign policy. China no doubt believes this to be the case, as Abe’s remarks drew criticism from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as being inappropriate.

In his speeches and during meetings with African heads of state, Abe was vocal in calling for UN reform, including obtaining permanent membership for Japan on the UN Security Council. The Nairobi Declaration and Nairobi Implementation Plan included calls for continued dialogue on reforms at the UN. This was in response to China’s strong opposition to Japan becoming a permanent member, as clearly articulated in the declaration adopted at the China-led FOCAC—the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last December—which states, “We express our commitment to resolutely reject any attempts to misrepresent the result of World War II.” The prime minister’s efforts to win support for UN reforms during TICAD VI can be seen as an attempt to counterbalance China’s moves.

The role of TICAD has expanded from simply being a vehicle for Japanese development assistance to Africa to become a platform for boosting the presence of Japanese firms and achieving Japan’s foreign policy objectives. As Japan’s rivalry with China in Africa heats up, it is still unclear whether this platform will lead to concrete results. Weighing Japan’s diplomatic success on the continent will come down to overcoming the short-term challenges to achieve the broad-reaching vision of TICAD.

(Originally written in Japanese and published on September 7. Banner photo: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, Japan's Prime Minister, Abe Shinzō, center, and Chad's President Idriss Deby, right, attend a joint press conference on the closing session of TICAD VI at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 28, 2016. © AP Photo/Aflo.)

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