JSAS’s 2nd Annual Conference: “Enhancing Japan-Africa Connectivity,”

The University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus

Reported by Kinyua Laban Kithinji,

Hosei University

The second Japan Association for Afrasian Studies (JSAS) annual conference was successfully concluded on Saturday, July, 27th, 2019 at the University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus.  This year’s conference was co-organised by the University of Tokyo; Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI), Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP), and the Global Leadership Programme for Social Design and Management (GSDM) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The 2019 conference was an official seventh Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development (TICAD 7) pre-event. In this regard, the conference theme was “Enhancing Africa-Japan Connections.” The contents of the key note speeches and the presentations, although diverse, were focused on accounting and expounding on Africa-Japan connectivity in such areas as history, bilateral and multilateral relations, development cooperation, investments, among others while also seeking to explore new arenas of connections in the two regions.


With special presenters, all of which possess a vast experience between Japan and Africa, we had a great opportunity with various participants to discuss in depth about Africa-Japan relations. Participants included African and Japanese students (from different Universities), researchers, professors, and members of international development community, among others.


Keynote Session and other events for the day

In line with the JSAS 2019 theme, two keynote speakers with enormous research and experience between themselves on the TICAD process and Asia-Africa connections in past and present, were invited. These speakers were Prof. Scarlett Cornelissen (Stellenbosch University – South Africa) and Prof. Kweku Ampiah (University of Leeds – UK). Prof. Cornelissen talked about the industrial links forged in the expansion of trade and diplomacy between Japan and Africa over the course of the 20th century. She examined them as explored through the lenses of political-economy and geo-institutional forces, namely systemic conditions, internationalization patterns and business links, as well as through micro-biographies of specific persons such as Toyota’s Albert Wessels. Professor Cornelissen concluded that there is a long history of interaction that reflected formative political moments in both Japan and Africa as a whole, and South Africa in particular; that there have been entangled industrial relations, obscured, though, under the shadow of politics; that there is the factor of path-dependence relations locked into a specific trajectory as the result of past decisions and patterns; and that there is the little-explored dimensions of Japanese firms’ African internationalization which display important phases in the Japan-Africa relationship.

 Professor Ampiah, on his part, looked at the economic relations between Ghana and Japan in the 1960s, which he examined within the wider context of the post-colonial history of Africa-Japan relations. He argued that these histories are significant in the way they provide insight into the contemporary issues, such as the dynamics of TICAD, which we are attempting to comprehend and address. “If we study these histories carefully,” he argued, “they could tell us about and define the future of Japan-Africa relations, and perhaps give us an insight into what TICAD might look like 26 years from now.” Professor Ampiah posed two fundamental questions: (1) How did the Japanese private sector react to the emerging and promising economy of post-colonial Ghana? (2) What contributions, if any, did the Government of Japan make to Ghana’s ambitions to develop an industrial economy? He concluded that in early post-independence days the Japanese Government trailed the Japanese Private Sector in their interest in Ghana’s emerging economy. That it was the Private Sector that tried to invite the Government to take African-Ghanaian industrialisation seriously, while now it is the opposite. The TICAD era, he argued, has reversed roles in government/private sector attitudes towards Ghana and Africa in general. It is now the Government trying through the TICAD process to energise the Private Sector’s interest in Africa.

In addition to the keynote speakers, two other speakers provided their insights as commentators; Prof. Shinichi Takeuchi (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) and Mr. Inaba Masaki (Africa Japan Forum). 

Commentary and discussion after the key-note speeches

A special session during JSAS 2019 conference was assigned to various graduate school students in Japan. This session was a platform for the graduate students to receive important comments from experienced specialists of their research topics to help them improve their research skills. This year, the session for students focused on strategies for sustainable development goals (SDGs) and another session on development issues in Africa. The commentators in this session included Prof. Shinichi Takeuchi, Prof. Kweku Ampiah, Prof. Sclarlett Cornelissen, Prof. Seifudein Adem, Prof. Kazuyo Hanai, and Prof. Vick L. Ssali.

In an effort towards an interdisciplinary approach that is inclusive of topics outside the confines of social sciences and humanities that JSAS aspires towards, there was a session that explored Africa-Japan space cooperation and capacity building that was presented by experts of the area from the university of Tokyo.


The conference proceedings concluded with a lively and an engaging roundtable that explored TICAD strategies discussing means through which TICAD goals can be implemented in the view and knowledge of SDGs.  Finally participants concluded the day with a social gathering and refreshments of food and drinks hosted at the nearby Forest Hongo.

Outcomes of the Conference


The conference had various inputs from the keynote session, individual presenters, and the roundtable. From these sessions, wide ranging issues were discussed. Such issues included the Africa development model that drew from comparative and historical analysis to recommend new approaches to contemporary Africa-Japan relations. Presentations were also made focusing on women livelihoods in Africa from where models from Japan were analysed as useful in the African context of such issues. It was also emphasised that new strategies need to be underscored for Official Development Assistance (ODA) in Africa. Other sessions focused on Africa-China comparative approaches that sought to analyse the presence of these two countries in the African continent. Such issues were also put into much broader context in a session that sought to discuss Africa in global geo-political context.



JSAS 2019 Welcoming Remarks by JSAS President Vick L. Ssali

On April 28th 2018, when we met at Doshisha University for our inaugural workshop, I said in my opening remarks as interim president that we were planting seeds for a memorable initiative. We then called ourselves the Afro-Asian Studies Initiative (AASI). We were indeed like a baby learning to walk. We thought about ourselves, perhaps unconsciously, as initiators, beginners, if you want.


A few weeks later, while reviewing the first workshop, the original pioneers felt a little bit more confident and decided we should call ourselves the Japan Society for Afrasian Studies (JSAS in short). Six months later, we held our first annual conference at Kansai University, thanks to the courage and hard work of Professors Kitagawa and Pedro M. Amakasu and their team. We also requested Professors Hanai, Maswana and Kinyua to form a team and prepare ground for our second annual conference. They have done a tremendous job. We are still a very small family, and in the case of any event a lot of work rests on very few shoulders. Thank you very much. Judging from the e-mail communications we have been getting, I am sure you spent many sleepless nights.

This event would not have taken the shape it is going to take without the efforts of our treasurer Professor Shirato of Ritsumeikan University. He is not only our treasurer, but he is also a hunter; he has a lot of African blood in him. On a serious note, Professor Shirato is the reason we were able to invite our two esteemed key-note speakers. It was his efforts and love for JSAS that secured us the sponsorship for this conference. Thank you very much.


I would like at this juncture to heartily welcome our two key-note speakers. Professors Scarlett Cornelissen, Professor Kweku Ampiah, you are most welcome. Professor Cornelissen teaches political science at the university of Stellenbosch in South Africa. She works in the field of international relations, and her expertise will greatly benefit us as she has done wide ranging research in the field of past and present dynamics of Japan-Africa relations. Professor Kweku Ampiah from Leeds University in the UK is one of the leading experts in Japan-Africa relations, and we look forward to sharing in your expertise this day as we reflect on ways of enhancing Japan-Africa connectivity. We thank you both for traveling from that far and grace this our second international conference.


We thank Professor Shinichi Takeuchi, a political economist with a most distinguished research career in African studies, for accepting to be with us today. We thank Mr. Masaki Inaba from the Japan-Africa Forum. You bring an academic and a business perspective, respectively, to the question we are pondering today: How to enhance the Japan-Africa connectivity.


I would like to thank all the board members for all your efforts towards today’s event. I would also like to thank our presenters for today for accepting to be part of this event, and for working tirelessly to bring the day’s program to what it is. To all JSAS members and all the participants in today’s event, you are most welcome. Thank you for coming in spite of the bad weather predictions. Last, but not least, a big THANK YOU to the University of Tokyo for hosting and supporting this event in many more ways than I can mention here. We thank Hanai Sensei again for being a trusted employee of this great institution.


I will now hand you over to the moderator of this morning session who will formally introduce and call on our distinguished key-note speakers.

Thank you for listening.