Making Sense of TICAD 7

Vick L. Ssali

Aichi Gakuin University

Led by the Government of Japan since 1993, and co-hosted by United Nations, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank and African Union Commission (AUC), the 7th TICAD conference and events were held on 28th - 30th August, 2019 at Pacifico Yokohama, Yokohama city, Japan. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official report, more than 10,000 people participated. These included 42 African leaders from 53 African countries, 52 development partner countries, 108 heads of international and regional organizations, and representatives of civil society and the private sector. From the Government of Japan,Prime Minister Abe co-chaired the conference with President El-Sisi of Egypt (current Chairman of the African Union), while Deputy Prime Minister Aso served as the acting chair of Japan. Foreign Minister Kono, and other relevant ministers and heads of governmental organizations, also attended.

The theme of TICAD 7 was “Advancing Africa's Development through People, Technology and Innovation.” Through this theme, the Japanese Government intended to strongly boost Africa's development through assistance that is unique to Japan given her strengths such as human resource development as well as science, technology and innovation.

Through a series of thematic sessions, Prime Minister Abe and the various Japanese delegations identified many strategies that could help advance Japan-Africa cooperation while advancing development through the African civil society itself as well as innovation in technology and other key areas. Such strategies include: human resource development, including the new “ABE Initiative 3.0”, which will aim to train a total of 3,000 young Africans who, in the words of the Prime Minister, will be the pilots Japanese companies can count on even more as they approach the African market; accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through private sector development and innovation; public and private business dialogue, especially a commitment to expand Japan’s direct investment; deepening a sustainable and resilient society, especially through the promotion of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) including through the Africa Health and Wellbeing Initiative (AfHWIN); and peace and Stability, especially support from international community for Africa’s own efforts, among other strategies. Many of these issues were reflected, directly or indirectly, in the Yokohama Declaration 2019 and its accompanying document the Yokohama Plan of Actions 2019.


Various side events were also held during TICAD 7. These included approximately 140 seminars and/or symposiums, and approximately 100 exhibitions. Besides, many Japan-Africa related socio-cultural as well as academic exchange events were held before, and are being held after TICAD 7.


TICAD 7 was planned to be more business-oriented than the previous conferences. This was because, as Shigeru Ushio, director-general of the African Affairs Department of Japan’s Foreign Ministry noted before the conference, “the Japanese private sector is finally becoming serious about the African economy” (Japan Times August 27, 2019). He said that as a result the (Japanese) private-sector businesses had requested (the Japanese government) to let them take the driver’s seat and speak during a plenary meeting of TICAD for the first time. Japanese businesses may now be more serious about doing business in Africa because of the high real economic growth most African countries have enjoyed in the last two decades mainly due to political stability. It may also be due to the rapid demographic changes on the continent which may make Africa the main overseas market and manufacturing base for major Japanese firms in the near future.

One thing TICAD organisers as well as the Japanese diplomatic community wanted to make clear, as the Japanese Ambassador to Uganda confirmed to this author recently, was that initiatives towards Japanese involvement in Africa, including TICAD, should not be seen as a direct competition to the growing Chinese economic influence in Africa. They note that Japan will continue to focus its economic assistance and involvement on quality, rather than quantity. Hence the theme: “Advancing Africa's Development through People, Technology and Innovation.”


As an African I must applaud the Japanese Government’s efforts to engage, through TICAD and other means, with an Africa that Prime Minister Abe described in his closing remarks as “moving forward with dynamic progress by the rapid increase of a young population, the birth of new businesses one after another through innovation and the conclusion of the African continent-wide free trade agreement” (See One must also applaud the Japanese “qualitative” approach to this Asian giant’s approach to Africa assistance and cooperation. But as we have argued elsewhere, “Africa needs to emulate the discipline of the Japanese: both fiscal and social discipline. The Japanese have been honest with themselves and to the promise they made after the devastating war: to build the peace they had once squandered, and to diligently work to rebuild their country…The(same) ‘honesty’ that uplifted (other Asian giants such as) Singapore from a position below several post-independence African states to a first world economy is also part of the fabric that has held Japan together” (See Mubangizi and Ssali, 2019’s-best-kept-secret-and-africa’s-game-changer).

The predicament of most of Africa today, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite: dishonesty. In many countries there is dishonesty in the way political and economic power is obtained and maintained, and there is dishonesty in the way governments and economies are run. Power in these countries is consolidated in the hands of a few and is sustained by vast patronage empires. It’s a pity that much of the locally collected revenues, as well as the aid and grants from donors, is spent on servicing and maintaining this patronage system. Japan must be credited for putting in place systems such as the JICA program that monitor and ensure an effective implementation of most of its ODA intentions. Nevertheless, there are many foreseeable obstacles to making all the Japan-Africa cooperation efforts such as are being pushed through TICAD beneficial to those who matter most, people on the grassroots of society.


People on the grassroots of society are the biggest victims of patronage and corruption. Corruption, it has been argued, “discourages private investment and saving, impedes the efficient use of government revenue and development assistance funds, and it hampers the effective delivery of public goods and services.  Essential medical, educational, and other social services that should be subsidized by the local arms of government all get out of local folks’ reach or become non-existent all-together” (Lawal, G. 2007).


Overseas development programs for Africa, including TICAD, had better start focusing more on directly empowering the civil societies in their efforts to keep life going. The most significant among such efforts in recent years has been accessing of the poor to microfinance. Savings and loan associations are becoming more and more fashionable in rural Africa today, and they provide credit for the poor to fight poverty, thus delivering financial services to a social class that has for decades been ignored by the conventional commercial banks and by their governments. Finding ways in which the Japan-Africa cooperation efforts can directly benefit local African entrepreneurs may be a good future TICAD agenda. Otherwise, the event risks degenerating into a club for entertaining the already rich and elite African strong men.

Prime Minister Abe rightly expressed his desire to foster stronger cords between Japan and the vast continent by pledging $20 billion through the private sector in the next three years. Efforts ought to be made to ensure that this big investment is not caught up in the bureaucracy that ultimately feeds the corrupt patronage machine that many African governments have become.