Japan has come to Africa.

Author:Marks, Christopher
Position:Special Report: Japan: Africa

TICAD 7 reflects Japan's accelerated commitment to the continent. More Japanese countries are on the ground in Africa, but the challenge for them now is to capture market share, says Christopher Marks of MUFG Bank

Japan has come to Africa. And Africa is coming to Japan. TICAD 7's welcome to the continent's senior politicians, public sector officials, development finance institutions, and private sector representatives will serve as a vital platform for formal, ritualised exchanges of MoUs as well as the closure of long negotiated transactions.

Anyone who has been working with any ofjapan's public agencies, megabanks or private corporations over the past six months will be well aware that Yokohama has usefully focused minds and sharpened pencils to get deals across the line by end-August.

Symbolically and substantively, TICAD 7 evidences Japan's accelerated commitment towards the continent, marked by ever shortened intervals between the, now, tri-annual conference. Until TICAD V in 2013 the conference was held every five years since 1993 in Japan. And since TICAD VI in Nairobi in 2016 the event alternates between Japan and Africa every three years.

While TICAD remains an important occasion for high-level political liaison and engagement--the event is hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the African Union--Japan's footprint in Africa is more rightly understood through the ineluctable commercial advance of the country's corporations large and small.

Japanese companies expand across Africa

There are an increasing number of Japanese companies operating in Africa, with an ever-broadening geographical spread across the continent (see map, right). But more interesting perhaps is the remarkable diversity of companies carving out a space for themselves in Africa, far beyond Toyota's ubiquitous vehicles and the familiar presence of Japan's globe-straddling trading houses in engineering, design and contracting consortia bidding for most of the continent's major infrastructure and hydrocarbon projects.

Take these wide-ranging examples. Nagoya-based Kagome has established a vertically integrated tomato processing operation in Senegal to enter the broader Ecowas market, a vision encompassing the full value-added chain from seed development to processing and distribution. Kansai Paint has made successive acquisitions to allow it to enter the EAC market and has even introduced the world's...

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