What Kenya, Africa stand to gain from Japan’s key forum

Ambassador TOSHITSUGU UESAWA spoke to JULIUS SIGEI on what Ticad brings to the African continent.

The sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) is being held in Nairobi, a first in its history as it has always been held in Japan.

How important is this session?

Ticad is the biggest, oldest and most powerful international conference which discusses African development. Since it was initiated in Japan in 1993, it has been playing a central role in the international discussion on African development. We have several heads of state and international organisations from the continent and beyond, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.

Ownership by Africa has always been the most important element of the Ticad process. Ticad VI in Nairobi brings the summit to its home for the first time in its history. Holding it here gives Kenya a chance to showcase her power, potential and dignity to the rest of the world.

Kenya has recently been the focus of global attention. Last year, there was President Obama’s visit in July; Pope Francis in November; and World Trade Organisation conference in December.

Last month, Kenya hosted the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ministerial conference. Now Kenya is hosting Ticad where all African Heads of State will participate. This is a big deal. However, this big deal cannot be won in one day. It is an extension of the Ticad process which Japan and Africa have walked together for a quarter of a century.

I understand that the private sector will take the lead in implementing the outcomes of Ticad VI. Why this shift from Official Development Assistance?

We can never overemphasise the importance of the private sector in economic take-off of the continent. The private sector-led development was identified as key to African development in the last Ticad in 2013.

The role of the private sector has become much bigger in Ticad VI. Japanese companies, for instance, which heavily invested in infrastructure projects are now investing in various sector such as agriculture, agro-processing and hospitality.

I believe you know Teriyaki Japan in central Nairobi and the fertiliser plant in Eldoret. More than 100 CEOs from Japanese leading companies have come with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to promote business between Japan and Africa.

In what ways can Kenya, and Africa generally, benefit from Japan’s advancement?

‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. This philosophy is the basis of Japanese official assistance as well as Japanese business.

Human capacity development through technical cooperation and technical transfer has always been an important element in Japanese official assistance and Japanese business. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is one such Japanese assistance.

The tireless hard work over a long period of time have made JKUAT one of the best universities in Kenya today.

Investment in Africa by Japanese companies is neither transient nor does it target only profit. They focus on long-lasting and sustainable investments, stemming from the management philosophy of ‘valuing the individual’. Strengthening the individual is also PM Abe’s philosophy.

Japanese construction, for instance, always comes with high technology. For instance, during the construction of the Mombasa Port Development project, the Japanese contractor trained high skilled welders which did not exist in Kenya before.

Ringroad Kileleshwa was also built mostly by Kenyan workers under the supervision of Japanese managers. In future, we expect African people themselves will produce more products and construct more buildings by using Japanese technology.

How has Japan benefitted from these relations? What, specifically, is in Ticad for Japan?

Japan initiated Ticad in 1993 to revive international attention to African development. After the end of the cold war in the 1990s, many of the global powers shifted their attention to the rebuilding of Europe, and interest in African development waned. Japan, however, thought such a trend was not right. We chose to support Africa.

We are glad it is widely known by our African counterparts that Ticad contributed in moving the global community to tackle challenges Africa is facing.

This is the first time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Kenya. What do you expect from the PM’s tour?

The fact that the first Ticad summit is being held in Kenya means there is a personal relationship of trust between Prime Minister Abe and President Kenyatta. Our bilateral relations have now come up to the extent that both countries discuss not only Japan-Kenya bilateral relations, but also African challenges and global issues.

Our two Heads of State have in the past discussed various issues including the promotion of trade and investment between our two countries and Japan’s cooperation with Kenya in infrastructure, health, capacity building in industry and business sector, and peace and stability of the region.

A follow-up on this issues should be made during Mr Abe’s visit.

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