The eighth edition of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), on August 27-28 in Tunis, comes at a critical time for our continent. Deepening relations with Japan, the world’s third power, can help Africa to rebalance its partnerships in order to be less dependent on Europe when the latter is faced with a cyclical downturn – in this case, the shock energy and the resurgence of inflation.
Africa, a national issue for Japan
By launching Ticad in 1993, Japan was the second country (after France) to institutionalize its relations with Africa. From the outset, it has emphasized a pioneering concept, “human security”, which constitutes the guideline of its approach to global cooperation and which makes it specific. It remains the third largest donor in OECD countries, with official development assistance (ODA) estimated in 2021 at 17.6 billion the dollars.
Over the editions of Ticad, the Japan-Africa partnership, initially focused on development aid and multilateralism, has become richer and more dense. In 2016, during Ticad VI in Nairobi, Japan’s commitment to the continent was renewed. Its economic character has been strengthened and the Japanese private sector has been associated more closely. This sector will also be strongly represented in Tunis. This “New Ticad”, of which the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, the late Shinzo Abe, had sketched the contours, is based on a double postulate, which is still current. Aid, while necessary, cannot do everything. Above all, Africa needs investments in viable integrating projects. For its part, Japan must better integrate into international trade and cannot neglect the opportunities offered by African markets. Ticad VIII, in Tunis, should symbolize the culmination of this paradigm shift.
Japan-Africa: “Behave not as a donor, but as a partner”
Relations between Tunisia and Japan are old and multifaceted. They cover practically all areas, from university cooperation to infrastructure and industry. Tunisia has received financial support from the Japanese government for the implementation of 42 development projects, for a cumulative amount of more than 3 billion dollars. Among the most emblematic, the Radès combined-cycle power station, the cable-stayed bridge at La Goulette, the seawater desalination station in Sfax and the motorway section linking Gabès to Médenine, etc.
The Japanese private sector is also strongly established in Tunisia, with around twenty companies. They employ more than 20,000 people, particularly in the strategic sectors of automotive components and electro-mechanical industries. A sign of the vigor of this economic partnership, Japan has become the third foreign investor in Tunisia in the first semester 2021.
Japan – Africa: “The Japanese private sector is still discreet on the continent”
Ticad VIII is likely to offer new horizons to this exemplary relationship. After South Africa and Kenya, Japan can make Tunisia the third pillar of its investments on the continent. Tunisian companies, design offices and start-ups are firmly established in North Africa (Libya, Mauritania), West Africa and French-speaking Central Africa. They have recognized expertise in different sectors (engineering, training, education, health, new technologies and green economy). Thanks to its comparative advantages and its geographical position, Tunisia can become a gateway and a support platform for Japanese companies wishing to deploy in Africa with a view to finding new sources of growth there.
Japan-Africa: Ticad VII and the search for lost time
On the strength of this vision, which it shares with its partners from the Japan Business Council for Africa and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), the Tunisian-Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCITJ) has brought together no less than seventy projects in a White Paper, which will be submitted to Japanese and African investors on August 26, on the occasion of the inauguration of Ticad VIII. All coming from the private sector, these projects are part of the promising framework of the Tunisia-Japan-Africa triangular partnership. They represent a total envelope of 8 billion dollars of investment – two thirds of which relate to solar energy and green hydrogen projects – and will enable the creation of more than 50,000 direct jobs in Tunisia alone.
The private sector has a key role to play in Africa’s recovery. Because it will strengthen both the links between the Japanese and African private sectors and the integration of markets, Ticad VIII is therefore timely. It can make a decisive contribution to building a stronger, more diversified and plus resilient.