Sunday, June 16, 2024
InterviewThe Japanese push to Africa

The Japanese push to Africa

Ambassador Fumio Shimizu is the newly appointed head of the Japanese Mission to the African Union (AU). A lawyer by profession, Shimizu is a seasoned Japanese diplomate and official at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shimizu joined the ministry as early as 1989 and has led various departments since then and foreign diplomatic missions. Apart from working at foreign missions of Afghanistan and France, he has led different multilateral departments at the Ministry. His most recent assignment has deputy-director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and Southeast southwest Asian Affairs Department at the ministry. Pursuant to his recent assignment, Yohaness Anberbir of The Reporter caught up to him to discuss what Japan is looking to achieve from its increased engagement with Africa and through the multilateral platform: Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).           


The Reporter: As the newly assigned head of the Japanese diplomatic mission to the African Union (AU), what is going to be your goals and that of the Mission’s here, in Addis Ababa?

Ambassador Shimizu: As we all know Africa is now becoming a very important continent. Africa is very important for Japan in many aspects. The population in Africa is now more than one billion and it will continue growing. Therefore, the continent is important in terms of population. Nevertheless, Africa is also important in terms of its growing Economy. As far as I know, the continent in general has been averaging a 4.8 percent economic growth between the year 2000 and 2016. So economically speaking, Africa is strategically important for a trading nation like Japan. Japan has diplomatic missions to the UN in New York, to the EU in Brussels and in Jakarta for Asian countries; so the logical question is why not to the AU. The relationship between Japan and the AU or the African states is another reason. Our relationship is growing deeper and deeper every year. However, we still wanted to enhance our relationship. So that is the intention behind the new mission. The world is now getting closer and countries every day; and governments are becoming increasingly interdependent. Africa (the world in general) is facing a series of Challenges that needs to be tackled in cooperation. By establishing this new mission to the AU, Japans intends to tackle economic, political and social challenges on both sides (Japan and Africa). This is accomplished only by strengthening its relationship with Africa and by reacting to the challenges together. For instance, there are some patches of conflicts, instabilities and terrorist activities in Africa hampering the wellbeing of Africans and their government’s aspiration for economic development. These phenomena have also been influencing Japan and its people; so we need to tackle these problems in Africa together with African governments. Such security challenges are not unique to Africa. We face challenges in Japan as well emanating mainly from developments in the Korean Peninsula which threatens the peace in Japan and the entire area through the development of weapons of mass destruction, such as Nuclear and long range missiles. Though this threat is directly affecting countries like Japan, Africa is not safer from it either. So, we need to join hands to tackle security problems on both sides. There are also so many global issues that need cooperation between Japan and Africa. We know that AU has been putting a lot of efforts to reforming its continental organizations and the African Union Commission (AUC), which our government is keen to support. We also think that the UN governance system also needs to be reformed; Japan also shares that sentiment. Hence, to that end and on so many other issues we would like to deepen our exchanges with African countries, the people and the AU.   

In 2018, Japan has started implementing its new foreign policy strategy which revolves around Free and Open Indo Pacific region. Can you elaborate more on the objectives of this new policy in general and its connection to the cooperation with African?

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In a conference held in India in 2007 our Prime Minister (Abe Shinzo) has made a speech that emphasized the security condition and issues of compliance at the junction of the two oceans: the Indian and pacific oceans. This speech may have been the origin for the free and open Indo Pacific strategy. After carefully designing this foreign policy strategy, PM Abe has officially announced it in 2016 at the TICAD conference that was held for the first time in Africa: in Nairobi, Kenya. Various challenges at the India and Pacific Oceans; such as piracy, terrorism, proliferation of mass destruction weapons, natural disasters and continuing attempts to change the status quo have prompted us to take the initiative and launch the free and open Indo Pacific foreign policy strategy. Our aim through this strategy is to make the two oceans free and open as international public goods by ensuring a rules-based international order. That includes the rule of law, freedom of navigation and over flights, peaceful settlement of disputes and promotion of free trade. To achieve this, we intend to promote peace, stability and prosperity across the Indo Pacific region. Successful implementation of this strategy will enhance connectivity, stability and prosperity for the two continents. This is key for both the rapidly growing Asian and African continents which are still challenged by poverty and other problems while possessing the potential for high economic growth, rich natural resources and promising market.    

TICAD is said to be one of the platforms created by your government to provided institutional setup for the win-win cooperation you are seeking with Africa. Let me take this opportunity to ask about the nature of TICAD’s Ministerial meeting that will kick start this week, on October 6?

First of all, TICAD is a platform that facilitates high level meetings between Japan African countries, mostly for the head of states. We do this meeting every three years. The next TICAD seven meeting will be held in August 2019 in Yokohamma, Japan. So, the TICAD ministerial meeting that is scheduled for October 6 will deliberate on the agendas that shall be tabled in the upcoming head of state summit.

Therefore, we expect four major topics to be discussed on this week TICAD ministerial meeting. Trends and changes in Africa and its cooperation with Japan since the last TICAD head of state summit will be one of the major topics on this meeting. This topic will definitely include the present positive developments on peace and security front that we are now seeing especial in the horn of Africa. The second is about economic transformation for inclusive growth. The third topic that we expect to be discussed in the meeting is agenda of crating healthy, sustainable and stable society that is key to ensuring human security. The fourth is about strengthening connectivity in Africa and beyond. When we talk about connectivity, it is about infrastructure and transport; and at the same time it is about digital connectivity. Not only these, institutional connectivity as well as people to people exchanges will also be included in the upcoming meeting. Besides the ministerial meeting, there are also sideline deliberations dedicated to the private sector engagements.  

Can you explain more about the synergy and alignments between the TICAD initiative and the Japanese economic cooperation policy?

I can say that the TICAD process is not different from the Japanese policy on economic cooperation. Ownership and Partnership are key word in TICADs philosophy. When we say ownership, we mean this that it is African states that should do for themselves and decide for their future. Here Japan stands only as a partner to support the effort of the African people. This is the essence of TICAD’s philosophy and our cooperation policy.

In 2011, there was a very heavy earthquake in the eastern side of Japan. More than 18,000 Japanese peoples become victim of the disaster. At that time, more than 200 countries, and international organization including Ethiopian offered their support to Japan as that time I myself and Japanese people were in a very serious difficulty; but at the same times we felt that Japan is not alone in being at the receiving end of the international support. Therefore, Japan should do the same for countries that needs support for the challenges they are facing.

The importance of Economic development as a whole is highly apparent since total development is only way to ensure the happiness and dignity of each individual.

 In other words if we want to change the world, we have to assure human security through economic development. These are the essence of Japanese economic cooperation policy reflected in the TICAD process.

So what are the achievements of TICAD so far? Tell me what it has brought to Africa in general and for Ethiopia particularly?

Japan launched the TICAD process just after the end of the cold war. The first meeting was held in 1993. At that time, the developed countries were concentrating on tackling the impacts of the cold war. That means the developed countries had lost their interest in the African development issues. That was the time Japan decided to take a leading role and organize an international conference to talk about the African development issues. That is how TICAD was started. Japans role at that time was just bringing Africas development issues to the attention of the international community. There were multiple organizers of the first meeting including the UN, the World Bank and others. We still maintained the involvement of the international stakeholders now including the AU as a co-organizer of the TDCAD summit.

With regard to what TICAD has offered to Africa and Ethiopia over the years, first thing could be the issue of social stability; ensure shared prosperity was indeed one of the pillars approved at the sixth TICAD meeting held in 2016 in Nairobi.

We do think that to realize prosperity, social stability is a very important factor. Therefore Japan has been supporting peace building and peace keeping efforts of each African countries, the AU or regional blocks like IGAD. For instance, Japan has contributed 10 million USD to support AMISoMs peace building efforts in Somalia. The other example is the support provided to the Ethiopian peace support training center. So far, we contributed 1.8 million USD and had provided technical supports especially on peace and security areas, such as border control. In this regard Japan has trained some 16,000 Africans since 2016.

Japan has also contributed 60 million USD to support refugee programs in Ethiopian; in addition, Japanese NGOs are also involved in Ethiopia and other African countries. Our support with regard to the refugee crisis has brought the due attention on development and social services apart from providing humanitarian assistances.

Another pillar of our TICAD initiative is about promoting structural economic transformation through economic diversification and industrialization. This is because many African countries have relied on primary economic goods, such as natural resources and agriculture. To achieve the objective of economic diversification and industrialization, African countries need to have the required human resource. To support this gap, Japan has provided training for more than 48,000 Africans since 2013. To do this, we created a new initiative called Abe initiative which by chance got the name of our prime Minister but it is an acronym given to the African Business Education. Through this initiative provided two years masters degree training in Japan universities.

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