NAIROBI • Japan has taken its aid and trade show to Africa, opening a huge two-day development conference yesterday in Kenya, hoping that quality will trump quantity in the battle for influence against cash-rich China.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday at a summit in Nairobi that Japan will pour US$30 billion (S$40.8 billion) in investment into Africa by 2018, including US$10 billion in infrastructure development.
"This is an investment that has faith in Africa's future," he said at the opening of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Mr Abe had stopped over in Singapore on Thursday en route to Kenya to pay his last respects to the late president SR Nathan.
The US$30 billion announced yesterday is in addition to US$32 billion that Japan pledged to Africa over a five-year period at the last TICAD meeting in 2013.
Mr Abe said 67 per cent of that had already been put to use in various projects. "Today's new pledges will enhance and further expand upon those launched three years ago. The motive is quality and enhancement," he said.
Japan has a sense of rivalry with China, which has provided large-sized assistance. Since Japan can't fight China in terms of amounts of cash, it needs to stress quality.
PROFESSOR KOICHI SAKAMOTO, of Toyo University
It is the first time that the conference has taken place in Africa, with all five previous events hosted in Japan. Mr Abe will use the opportunity to meet dozens of leaders from across Africa, among them Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and South Africa's Jacob Zuma.
Speaking on the eve of the conference, Mr Kenyatta said the focus would be on industrialisation, health and stability.
"We know that most nations which escape the grip of poverty do so by industrialising. Africa still has not lived up to its potential," he said.
"Development is not something that will happen to Africa, it is Africans themselves who will win the freedom and prosperity they deserve."
Mr Abe pledged that Japan's "high-quality technology and human resource development" would support industrialisation, including in agriculture. "The key to economic growth is industrialisation."
Resource-poor Japan has long been interested in tapping Africa's vast natural resources, even more so since dependence on oil and natural gas imports jumped after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster shut almost all of Japan's nuclear reactors.
Tokyo has a well-established presence in Africa, but its financial importance to the continent has long since been eclipsed by regional rival China. The world's second-largest economy - a resource-hungry giant - recorded total trade with Africa of about US$179 billion in 2015, dwarfing Japan's approximately US$24 billion.
"Japan has a sense of rivalry with China, which has provided large- sized assistance," said Professor Koichi Sakamoto at Toyo University.
"Since Japan can't fight China in terms of amounts of cash, it needs to stress quality."
The European Union, China, India, South Korea, and Turkey have similar aid ventures to court African leaders as they look for a slice of the continent's resources and burgeoning markets.
But enthusiasm may be dampened by security concerns over some of Africa's more lawless areas.
Such danger was driven home in 2013 when a gas plant in Algeria built by a Japanese company was overrun by Islamist gunmen, who killed 40 people.
There is also the growing threat from radical Islamist groupings, such as the Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists as well as the Shabaab group, which is active in Kenya.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS