• JSAS

Book Review

Japan’s Economic Relations with Africa in a Historical Perspective by Katsuhiko Kitagawa

Osaka: Kansai University Press, 2020. Pp. 147, ¥2200 (hbk).

Seifudein Adem

Doshisha University


A result of many years of meticulous examination of Japanese consular reports on trade relations between Japan and Africa, and covering twenty-seven years, from 1912 to 1939, this book’s focus, in conveniently divided ten chapters, centers on Africa’s three regions: Eastern, West, Central. The book also has two separate chapters on Japan’s trade with South Africa. Chapters 9 and 10 briefly examine, respectively, the intellectual and diplomatic trends in Japan-Africa relations in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and in the post - Cold War periods.


Especially innovative and worth highlighting in Chapter 9 is the section in which the author introduces some of the Japanese intellectuals who have contributed in the 1950s and 1960s to the discourse on Africa in Japan. These Japanese intellectuals include Terutaro Nishino (1914-1993), Kanjiro Noma (1912-1975) and Koshiro Okakura (1912-2001). This information is important, particularly for Africanist (non-Japanese) researchers, who may wish to consult influential books written in Japanese by influential Japanese Africanists. Such a source is to my knowledge very hard to come by, not least in the English language.


Chapter 10 touches on the growing power and influence of China in Africa. But the author seems to suggest, and rightly in my view, that Sino-Japanese diplomacy in Africa does not have to be a zero-sum game. Both countries have much to offer to Africa: Japan, as the first non-Western country to successfully modernize (without Westernizing), and China, as the first country to effectively debunk, by transforming its economy within a span of only four decades, the idea that developing countries cannot narrow and eventually close the gap between themselves and the industrialized West.


Another theme taken up in Chapter 10 is the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) – a 1993 forum convened in Tokyo for Africa’s leaders to deliberate about African development with their Japanese counterpart. The latest, 7th TICAD forum, was held in Yokohama in August 2019. It is important to remind ourselves that it was Japan which took the initiative to launch what is today known as ‘Africa plus 1’ summit. The ‘Africa plus 1’ summit, or TICAD diplomacy, has now been embraced by all major powers, including China, India, France, The UK, USA, Korea and, more recently, Russia. Even Japanese policymakers, the originators of the idea, had probably not foreseen or anticipated that TICAD diplomacy would proliferate so widely and so fast.



It would not be an exaggeration to say that more books have been published in English on the relationship between Japan and Africa, or some dimensions of it, in the last ten years than in the preceding one hundred years combined. Of these, Jun Morikawa’s 1997 book Japan and Africa: Big Business and Diplomacy stands out as complementary to the book under review, or vice versa. Both books, written in English on Japan-Africa relations, deal with different aspects of the relationship. The first book focuses on the diplomacy of the relationship and the second on its economics; the first covers the post - Second World War period while the second grapples with the pre - First World War period to just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is to be hoped that someday Professor Morikawa would examine the economic repercussions of the relationship at greater detail, for Japan and for Africa; and Professor Kitagawa would explore the diplomatic ramifications more fully – both in their own chosen respective timeframes. Alternatively, some of the many disciples of the two senior scholars may need to prepare to take up the challenge. In any case, it needs to be stressed that Professor Kitagawa’s book fills an important gap in the existing literature.


By examining and interpreting several years of official economic data, Professor Kitagawa has thus rendered an outstanding service to Africanists for whom this subject is of interest. It is conceivable that this book could also lead to the publication of more books that record, assess and duly recognize Japanese intellectuals who contributed to the discourse on Africa and on Africa and Japan.


Japan’s Economic Relations with Africa in a Historical Perspective is pathbreaking in important ways, and, therefore, a most welcome addition to the growing literature. It is destined to become an invaluable source of reference and information about the history of Japan’s economic relations with Africa, as well as for inspiration.