Japan’s Strategic Interests in the Global South: Africa

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This report is part of Strategic Japan, a CSIS Japan Chair initiative featuring analysis by Japan’s leading foreign policy scholars on key regional and global challenges and the implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance.


At the Group of Seven (G7) Hiroshima Summit held in May 2023, 15 months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, G7 leaders confirmed the strengthening of partnerships with African countries. Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio, as summit chairman, led the effort to strengthen partnerships with Africa and pledged continued support for peace, stability, and prosperity on the continent.

The Japanese government places particular importance on relations with Africa because it is extremely important to work with all 54 African countries, which collectively account for more than a quarter of UN members, to maintain and strengthen a free and open international order based on the rule of law. This is all the more critical at a time when China and Russia are seeking to unilaterally change the status quo through force and coercion. It is therefore in Japan’s strategic interest to gain support from the Global South, including as many African countries as possible, to serve as a diplomatic deterrent to dissuade China from furthering its unlawful maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific or invading Taiwan.

The Japanese government has built good relations with African countries and is positioned to engage them on the need to maintain a free and open international order based on the rule of law.

To gain the support of African countries, Japan needs to contribute to their peace and prosperity through means such as aid, investment, and military support. Since hosting the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 1993, the Japanese government has focused on encouraging the economic development of African countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of these efforts over the past 30 years, the Japanese government has built good relations with African countries and is positioned to engage them on the need to maintain a free and open international order based on the rule of law. However, the level of Japanese official development assistance (ODA) for Africa is declining.

Japan’s ODA contributions were the largest in the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) during the 1990s, but as of 2022, Japan had fallen to third place behind the United States and Germany. It will be virtually impossible for Japan to increase its ODA to African countries given its declining birth rate and aging population, as well as its difficult fiscal situation: gross public debt as a percentage of GDP was 261 percent in 2022. In addition, Japan’s total GDP is only about one-fourth that of China, making it impossible for Japan to compete in terms of ODA with China’s growing presence in Africa. Furthermore, in the current international context, in which UN peacekeeping operations are generally in decline, Japan has few opportunities to contribute to security in Africa.

Rather than pursue an increase in ODA to Africa, the Japanese government is faced with redesigning its African diplomacy amid the relative decline of Japan’s national strength. This paper reviews the history of Japan’s policy toward Africa, summarizes the challenges facing Japan’s Africa policy, and proposes ways to make Japan’s constructive engagement with Africa sustainable.

History of Japanese Diplomacy in Africa

For a long time after a series of African countries gained independence in the 1960s, the Japanese government did not have a systematic strategy for Africa. In 1970, ODA to sub-Saharan Africa accounted for only 1.8 percent of Japan’s total ODA; by contrast, 94.4 percent went to Asia. The first slight change in Japan’s diplomacy toward Africa occurred in the early 1970s, when the 1973 oil shock led the Japanese government to position Africa as one of its oil supply sources. In 1974, Kimura Toshio became the first Japanese foreign minister to visit five African countries, including Nigeria. However, diplomacy with Africa remained a low priority throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and the director in charge of Africa within the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was regarded as a “lower ranking” division chief post.[1]

The first major turning point came at the end of the Cold War, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Amid Japan’s bubble economy, its total ODA contributions surpassed those of the United States in 1991 to become the highest in the world. In 1990, Japan’s share of total ODA to Asia fell to 63.1 percent, while its share to sub-Saharan Africa increased to 10.9 percent. During the 1970s and 1980s, African countries received large amounts of aid from Western donor countries, but these funds delivered only limited development gains across Africa. As a result, there was a widespread sense of aid fatigue among Western donors in the early 1990s. Under these circumstances, the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York, believing the best way to ensure Japan’s election as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council was to collect votes from African countries, proposed internally in July 1990 that MOFA organize a new conference to discuss development issues in Africa. In 1993, the Japanese government hosted the first TICAD.

According to the recollections of Owada Hisashi, who was then the senior deputy minister for foreign affairs (promoted to vice minister for foreign affairs in 1991), MOFA made the decision to launch TICAD in June 1991, hosting the first conference in October 1993, for two reasons. First, because aid provided by the East and West during the Cold War did not contribute to the development of African countries, Japan wished to lead the formation of a new concept for African development and contribute to solving problems such as poverty, conflict, and underdevelopment in Africa. Second, the Japanese government wanted to break with its “passive diplomacy” as a defeated nation in World War II and shift to “proactive diplomacy” to shape the international order by showing the international community how Japan could take the lead in promoting African development.

The Japanese government wanted to break with its “passive diplomacy” as a defeated nation in World War II and shift to “proactive diplomacy” to shape the international order by showing the international community how Japan could take the lead in promoting African development.

Thus, MOFA, seeking to strengthen relations with Africa, hosted the second TICAD in 1998. However, African diplomacy remained a low priority for Japan throughout the 1990s. By contrast, China dispatched two different presidents to Africa a total of four times during the 1990s. The first visit to the continent by a Japanese prime minister was not until Mori Yoshiro’s visit in 2001. Despite the impetus to establish TICAD, the importance of Africa was not well understood within the Japanese government or even within MOFA. The ministry did not have a senior official dedicated to African diplomacy until 2001, when a reorganization created the position of deputy director general for Africa within the Middle East and Africa bureau.

The Japanese government gradually began to recognize the importance of diplomacy with Africa around 2008, when the fourth TICAD was held. Rapid growth of African economies began in earnest around 2003. In the 2009 edition of Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook, an article referred to the importance of diplomacy with Africa for the first time: “Relations with Africa, with its abundant natural resources and an enormous, ever-increasing population, also carry great significance for the future of the Japanese economy.” The following year, the 2010 edition of the Diplomatic Bluebook for the first time clearly referred to TICAD as the “cornerstone” of Japan’s diplomacy with Africa. The idea of using TICAD as a diplomatic asset for Japan gradually gained strength within the government. In 2012, the Department of African Affairs was established within MOFA. Total ODA (net disbursement) to sub-Saharan Africa increased 180 percent over 10 years, from $0.97 billion in 2000 to $1.73 billion in 2010.

Japan’s diplomacy with Africa became more strategic and systematic under the second Abe Shinzo administration, which began in December 2012. The first change was evident at the fifth TICAD, in 2013, which promoted investment in Africa by Japan’s private sector. The Japanese government focused on sustained economic growth in Africa and chose to strengthen Japan’s presence in the region with private sector funding. A particular focus of the Abe administration was the export of “quality infrastructure” from Japan to African countries.

The second change was that Japan and Africa began to jointly issue messages on the importance of a liberal international order. In his keynote speech at the sixth TICAD in Nairobi in August 2016, Prime Minister Abe announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Initiative (FOIP), a diplomatic vision to connect Indo-Pacific and East African nations under shared principles, including freedom, the rule of law, and a market economy free from coercion. The TICAD Ⅵ Nairobi Declaration included a new phrase: “maintaining a rules-based maritime order in accordance with the principles of international law.” Although the declaration did not mention a specific country, its content is mindful of China, which then and now seeks to exert maritime dominance in the South China Sea without regard for international law.

The statement on “maintaining a rules-based maritime order in accordance with the principles of international law” has since become, without fail, an explicit part of the triennial TICAD outcome document. In other words, since the sixth TICAD, Japan and its African partner countries have jointly communicated the importance of values such as freedom and the rule of law. This indicates that the position of African countries within Japanese diplomacy has changed from “aid destination” to a “partner in shaping the international order.”

Japan and its African partner countries have jointly communicated the importance of values such as freedom and the rule of law. This indicates that the position of African countries within Japanese diplomacy has changed from “aid destination” to a “partner in shaping the international order.”

To date, the Kishida administration has followed the strategic nature of Japan’s diplomacy with Africa, formed under the Abe administration, which lasted approximately eight years and nine months, until September 2020. However, Japan’s ODA contributions (net disbursements) to sub-Saharan Africa, which increased in the 2000s, have generally remained at around $1.5–$1.7 billion per year since 2010 and totaled $1.68 billion in 2022. The share of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in Japan’s total ODA has also generally been fixed at around 10 percent. In addition, the Japanese government’s goal of promoting investment in Africa by Japanese companies has, to date, failed to produce the expected results. The issue of investment by Japanese companies is discussed in more detail below.

Key Issues


China and Japan in Africa

Japan’s diplomacy with Africa took on a strategic character under the second Abe administration for two main reasons: (1) economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, which truly took off in the twenty-first century, and (2) the expansion of China’s influence in Africa. After a long period of stagnation beginning in the early 1980s, economies in sub-Saharan Africa began to experience high growth around 2003. According to statistics from the International Monetary Fund, the average growth rate in GDP in sub-Saharan Africa during the decade from 2003 to 2012, when growth was strongest, was 5.7 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa’s total GDP, increased from $424 billion in 2000 to $1.4 trillion in 2010, more than tripling in just 10 years.

Japan’s diplomacy with Africa took on a strategic character under the second Abe administration for two main reasons: (1) economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, which truly took off in the twenty-first century, and (2) the expansion of China’s influence in Africa.

Corporate investment from all over the world drove Africa’s economic growth. For many years, the main players were French, UK, and U.S. companies. But since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Chinese investment in Africa has increased rapidly, as has China’s presence on the continent. China, under Chinese president Xi Jinping, has incorporated involvement in Africa into its Belt and Road Initiative. Further, Vision 2035 was adopted at the eighth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in 2021, setting forth the basic policy for future relations with Africa through 2035. Vision 2035 calls for enhanced cooperation with Africa in all areas, including agriculture, poverty reduction, industrialization, finance, trade, investment, infrastructure development, digital innovation, science and technology, human exchange, human resources development, environment, peace and security, and global governance. The Xi administration intends to use Africa’s economic and population growth for China’s development, and China seeks to wield superior influence on the development of African countries, surpassing the influence of France, the United Kingdom, or the United States.

The impetus for China’s deepening relations with Africa may be traced back to the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989. Although major Western countries imposed severe economic sanctions on China, some African countries, such as Angola, supported the Chinese government’s hard-line response. As part of its strategy to avoid isolation under the U.S.-centered international order, the Chinese government began to strengthen relations with African countries. Throughout the 1990s, Chinese officials made a series of annual visits to Africa, and since 2000, FOCAC has been held every three years.

According to a study by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Chinese investment flows to Africa, which totaled only $75 million in 2003, steadily increased, rising to $5.4 billion annually in 2018. After a drop to $2.7 billion in 2019, they recovered to $4.2 billion in 2020, when the global economy was severely damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Global new investment in Africa in 2020 totaled $38.0 billion, meaning China accounted for about 11 percent of global investment in Africa that year.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Kingdom had the highest balance of investment in Africa as of 2020, at approximately $65 billion, followed by France, the Netherlands, and the United States; China was in fifth place, at approximately $43 billion. In addition, according to a report published in August 2021 by the China-Africa Business Council, China’s outstanding investment in Africa as of 2020 was estimated at $47 billion. By country, the largest target for Chinese investment in Africa was South Africa (12.5 percent), followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (8.5 percent) and Zambia (7.0 percent). Construction (29.6 percent), mining (23.5 percent), and manufacturing (12.5 percent) were the sectors in which China was most active. In addition, after peaking at $11.0 billion in 2017, Chinese financing for energy- and infrastructure-related projects in Africa totaled $4.5 billion in 2018, $2.8 billion in 2019, and $3.3 billion in 2020.

Among the Chinese companies operating in Africa, Huawei, which is engaged in digital infrastructure construction, deserves attention. The U.S. government has restricted Huawei’s U.S. sales of telecommunications equipment for security and other reasons. However, Huawei is providing both equipment and solutions for digital infrastructure in African countries, especially in the construction of smart cities. According to a database published in June 2021 by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Huawei has been involved in 39 smart city projects in at least 25 African countries. Once an African country has installed Huawei smart city technology, it is forced to rely on Huawei for maintenance and software updates for an extended period. In addition, reliance on the company’s network can result in a vast amount of personal information being stored by the company. Huawei’s method of expanding into Africa is characterized by an “iron triangle” in which companies in African host countries receive loans from the China Development Bank and use the funds to purchase Huawei’s equipment and services. This presents an extremely high risk of the Chinese government collecting and using national secrets and personal information from African countries.

By the start of the second Abe administration, China had surpassed Japan in total GDP and had expanded its presence in Africa rapidly as the continent entered a period of economic growth. During this period, African countries voiced their desire for investment rather than ODA, and Japan could not increase its ODA due to fiscal challenges. The Abe administration therefore promoted Japanese corporate investment in Africa as a lever for diplomacy with the continent instead of relying on ODA. As a result, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, a government-affiliated agency, established the Special Insurance for Promotion of Investment and Loan to Africa to mitigate investment risk. MOFA concluded investment agreements with Mozambique, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire and began negotiations with eight other African countries. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) expanded its loan facility for investment promotion, known as the Facility for African Investment and Trade Promotion. The Japan International Cooperation Agency and the African Development Bank focused on improving the investment environment in African countries through the Enhanced Private Sector Assistance for Africa initiative. Through these measures, the Japanese government sought to encourage Japanese companies to invest in Africa and strengthen relations with African countries.

According to UNCTAD, Japan was not among the top 10 countries in terms of investment in Africa in 2020, with outstanding Japanese foreign direct investment in Africa totaling only $6.1 billion, far behind that of smaller countries such as Singapore ($21.0 billion) and Switzerland ($17.0 billion). The Japanese government attempted to reduce its reliance on traditional ODA and position private funding as leverage in its diplomacy toward Africa but failed to produce the desired results.

The Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Another challenge facing Japan’s diplomacy with Africa is anti-Western sentiment that has become evident in some African countries. The voting behavior of African nations at the UN Emergency Special Session held on March 2, 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shocked Western nations, including Japan, and revealed the reality that African countries do not widely support the current international order led by the West.

The voting behavior of African nations at the UN Emergency Special Session held on March 2, 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shocked Western nations, including Japan, and revealed the reality that African countries do not widely support the current international order led by the West.

At the special session, 141 of the 193 UN member states voted in favor of a draft resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine (Figure 1). However, 35 countries abstained, 12 countries did not vote, and 5 voted against the resolution. A close examination of the voting behavior of African countries revealed that 17 of the 35 abstentions, 8 of the 12 no votes, and 1 of the 5 opposing votes were from Africa. In other words, 26 of the 54 African countries did not vote in favor of condemning Russia. Three weeks later, on March 24, 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the cessation of attacks against civilians and the strengthening of humanitarian assistance. There were 140 countries in favor, 5 against, 38 abstentions, and 10 no votes. One African country voted against, 27 were in favor, 20 abstained, and 6 did not vote. In other words, exactly half of the 54 African countries did not condemn Russia.

Source: United Nations Digital Library.

Even African states that supported the aforementioned resolutions appear to have signaled dissatisfaction with the Western-led order. On April 7, 2022, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution calling for suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council. Nine African countries voted against, 24 abstained, and 11 did not vote, meaning 44 of the 54 African countries did not vote in favor of suspending Russia’s status. This means many of the countries that voted in favor of the two earlier General Assembly resolutions in March chose to oppose, abstain, or not vote on Russia’s status in the Human Rights Council. Kenya, for example, changed its voting behavior, having voted yes on the two General Assembly resolutions in March but then abstaining on the third (Table 1). Even Kenya, which normally follows a pro-Western diplomatic line, changed its attitude as soon as Western countries made human rights an issue.

Table 2

African nations are not monolithic and do not actively associate themselves with the term “Global South,” which is increasingly used in reference to the developing world. However, in the modern interpretation, the Global South generally refers to emerging and developing countries that are not aligned with the West, China, or Russia, and that seek to remain neutral. The approach many African countries took at the United Nations regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine—neither agreeing with nor opposing the resolutions proposed by the West—may epitomize the Global South.

If leading Western countries, including Japan, are to effectively engage the Global South in the future, it is necessary to understand why many African countries were reluctant to criticize Russia at the UN General Assembly. The regimes in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, and other countries drew support from the former Soviet Union throughout the colonial liberation struggle and still have close ties to Russia. In the case of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who became president after the abolition of Apartheid, visited Russia in 1999, and the two countries signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 2006. In 2013, the two countries signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement during Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to South Africa. Moreover, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has made statements that could be perceived as pro-Russian. On March 17, 2022, about three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Ramaphosa declared in parliament that the war was caused by eastward expansion of NATO, which had pushed Russia into a corner. Only a few African countries have such deep historical ties to Russia, though Russia has influence across the continent. For example, several countries that do not have more established connections to Russia, such as Kenya, opposed its expulsion from the UN Human Rights Council.

Russia does not exert its influence economically and is not a major player in the economies of African countries. UNCTAD estimates that Russian companies account for less than 1 percent of total direct investment flowing into Africa as a whole. In addition, trade (exports plus imports) between Russia and Africa constitutes only about 2 percent of total African trade. The Putin administration held two Russia-Africa summits, in 2019 and 2023, and promised to provide economic support for Africa, but Russian companies are not competitive, excluding in the energy sector. As a result, African countries are unlikely to expect any substantial economic support from Russia.

Russia’s military presence in Africa has been somewhat more influential. Prior to 2015, only four African countries had confirmed military agreements with Russia: Algeria, Angola, Libya, and Tunisia. However, starting with Cameroon in April 2015, Russia began signing a series of military agreements with African countries, and by the end of 2018, Russia had signed military agreements with 21 countries. The agreements generally included the provision of Russian-made weapons, training of African countries’ militaries, and support in conflicts against various terrorist groups. It is believed that Russia rushed to strengthen relations with these African countries after it unilaterally annexed the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory, by force in 2014 and its confrontation with Western countries intensified. For Russia, military support is one of the few areas where it can exert influence in the international community. However, close examination of the voting behavior of African countries on the March 2 UN resolution condemning Russia after the invasion of Ukraine reveals that 10 of the 21 African countries that had concluded military agreements with Russia since 2015 voted for the resolution. In other words, the strength of Russia’s military ties with African countries alone cannot explain the voting behavior of African countries at the United Nations.

Another important factor in Russia-Africa relations is the issue of Russia’s use of hybrid warfare tactics in Africa. Hybrid warfare is a method of warfare that incorporates military intimidation; political, economic, and diplomatic influence and cyberattacks; information warfare, including the dissemination of propaganda and fake news; terrorism; and criminal acts to achieve political objectives. Such activity came to prominence following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has been the focus of reports from groups such as the European Institute for Security Studies, among others. Russian information warfare using social networks and mass media has been identified in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. These countries have three things in common: political instability, the presence of natural resources, and a perception from Russia that formerly colonized states where British or French influence has weakened are unlikely to resist Russian intervention.

A prime example of Russia’s use of hybrid warfare techniques is the establishment of pro-Russian regimes in the Central African Republic and Mali. Both countries have hosted the Russian private military company the Wagner Group, and both abstained from the March 2 UN General Assembly vote. However, both are in a special political situation, with civil wars and frequent coups d’état, and Russia has succeeded in taking advantage of the breakdown of governance to bring both countries under its influence. Therefore, these cases are hardly universally useful for explaining the voting behavior of African countries in the UN General Assembly.

Sharing Values with Africa

MOFA was alarmed by the large number of abstentions among African countries at the UN General Assembly because a failure to clearly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could send the wrong message to China, which has engaged in coercive behavior in the East and South China Seas and could take action to defend its territorial sovereignty claims if it concludes the international community will not condemn attempts to change the status quo by force. Therefore, the Japanese government began behind-the-scenes negotiations with the African Union Commission (AUC), the cohost of TICAD, on the contents of the Tunis Declaration to be issued at the eighth TICAD, scheduled for August 2022, six months after the invasion of Ukraine. Japan’s objective was to include clear language criticizing Russia in the declaration and to jointly issue a message with Africa that reiterates that attempts to change the status quo by force are unacceptable. However, the AUC told Japan that it did not want to mention matters concerning Ukraine in the declaration.[2]

In the end, the Japanese side proposed avoiding the use of words that might provoke Russia, such as “war” or “aggression,” and settled on expressing “serious concern” about the situation in Ukraine and the African and global economies. The Japanese side also proposed, and the AUC agreed to, specifying “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and emphasizing “the importance of the preservation of peace, security and stability, through dialogue and respect for the principles of international law.” During the negotiations, language regarding “maintenance of maritime order” was also adjusted with China in mind.

As mentioned, the statements from the fourth and seventh TICADs included references to the “maintenance of maritime order” to send a signal to China. For this reason, the Japanese side thought it would be relatively easy to obtain the AUC’s approval to include similar language in the Tunis Declaration. However, the AUC initially expressed reluctance, saying, “We acknowledge the existence of the problem of maritime order, but we cannot accept only Japan’s demands.” Eventually, a compromise was reached by including the phrase, “We take good note of the initiative of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific as announced by Japan at TICAD VI in Nairobi.”[3]

The idea that the West can use development aid to influence the foreign policies of African countries is no longer valid. In the twenty-first century, African countries have acquired the status of “choosers” and engage various economic partners.

The episode regarding the content of the declaration shows that the relationship between African countries and Western countries, which are traditional aid donors, has changed dramatically. The idea that the West can use development aid to influence the foreign policies of African countries is no longer valid. In the twenty-first century, African countries have acquired the status of “choosers” and engage various economic partners, including Brazil, China, India, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey.

The large number of abstentions and no votes in the UN General Assembly is the result of African nations taking full advantage of their position as choosers. For African nations, which have experienced colonization and domination by different ethnic groups, self-determination is a nonnegotiable principle. Therefore, many countries chose not to endorse Russia’s aggression, which is a clear violation of international law, but are also unwilling to unconditionally recognize the Western-led international order. There is a general perception among African countries that the current international order was established based on the legacy of colonial rule by Western powers and does not benefit African countries. For example, Africa has experienced a series of droughts and floods attributed to climate change in recent years in various regions. However, Western industrialized countries have emitted the majority of greenhouse gases in modern history, and African countries are asking why they must suffer as a result of a problem they did not create. Japan and other leaders of the Western-led order therefore should develop new engagement strategies with African countries and convince them that the existing order supports the interests of the continent. 

Policy Recommendations

  1. Japan should work with the United States and other Western countries to deepen policy dialogue with African countries on a shared vision for the continent and the Global South. Japan’s FOIP vision is effective in the diplomatic and military spheres but lacks a clear strategy for economic development that can attract African countries. Policy dialogue should be held preferably at both the track 1 (official) and track 2 (nongovernmental) levels to generate a range of initiatives and reach agreement on the most effective way to engage the continent. Notably, Prime Minister Kishida delivered an address at the UN General Assembly on September 19, 2023, in which he stressed the importance of “human dignity.” This term appeals to the Global South and can be widely endorsed because it does not overemphasize human rights, which is a sensitive issue for many countries in the Global South and could invite a backlash against renewed initiatives from developed nations such as Japan.
  2. The Japanese government must face the reality of economic decline due to an aging population and declining birthrate and should redesign its diplomacy toward Africa accordingly, building on the premise that future increases in ODA or Japanese corporate investment are unrealistic. A redesigned strategy for Africa should focus on the principles of selection and concentration, or a narrower emphasis on select fields, industries, and target countries, to increase the effectiveness and impact of development assistance.
  3. To narrow down the target countries and areas of concentration, several general criteria should be considered:
    • the quality of the partner country’s leadership and bureaucracy, in particular the willingness and ability to persevere in development
    • a shared commitment to maintain a free and fair international order
    • alignment of needs with Japan’s strengths (for example, Japan’s deep experience in the manufacturing industry but limited capacity to provide support in the military field)
  4. To deepen mutual understanding, comprehensive bilateral policy dialogues should be held between Japan and countries identified as targets for collaboration and cooperation. A problem for both Japan and African countries is that government officials, business leaders, and others on both sides do not know enough about each other’s histories and social conditions. Therefore, policy dialogue should not be limited to officials focused on development aid.
  5. Developing a cohort of African individuals who know Japan well is critical. Efforts to invite African youth to Japan should be expanded. Japan announced the African Business Education Initiative for Youth (ABE Initiative) at the fifth TICAD, held in 2013. The ABE Initiative has accepted a total of approximately 1,600 young people from 54 countries. Supporting the trainees’ activities after they return to their home countries and continuing the relationship with them will be a mid- to long-term diplomatic asset for Japan.
  6. Japan should cooperate with the United States and other Western countries to develop information dissemination strategies in Africa focused on social networking services (SNSs). In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 60 percent of the population is under age 25, the influence of SNSs is enormous. Russia has been exploiting this situation to spread disinformation. Understanding new information and communications technologies is vital if concepts such as freedom and human dignity are to be shared with African youth.


Now that African countries have obtained the status of “choosers,” a meticulous approach is required to build upon shared universal values with African countries, such as freedom and human dignity. Although various forms of human rights repression are apparent in African countries today, the West’s approach of imposing human rights from above and harshly criticizing the politics and customs of African countries may have the opposite effect, reminding African people of memories of colonialism by the West. China and Russia, which are despotic regimes, will see the situation in which African countries oppose the West as an opportunity to expand their influence. Under these circumstances, Japan, the only Asian country in the G7, has an important role to play in engaging Africa on its own terms while developing partnerships to maintain a world order based on liberalism.

Shirato Keiichi is a professor with the College of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University.

The author thanks Mr. Christopher B. Johnstone and other members of the CSIS Japan Chair for the opportunity to write this paper.

The Strategic Japan Initiative is made possible by a grant from the government of Japan.

Please consult the PDF for references.

Shirato Keiichi

Professor, College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University