Insights from the Japan Society for Afrasian Studies (JSAS) Online Conference, July 3rd, 2021

Beyond COVID-19: The value of Human Capital in the New Afrasian Connectivity

Compiled by Dr Rangarirai Gavin Muchetu (JSAS Secretary General)


About JSAS

The Japan Society for Afrasian Studies (JSAS) is a multi-disciplinary research platform of African studies in Japan/Asia and, potentially, Japanese/Asian studies in Africa. We live in a rapidly shrinking world, with migration, massive trade, and advanced IT tools, expanding the interface between Africa and Asia at an unprecedented rate and on numerous fronts: business, culture, politics, and scholarship. There is a growing number of African students and scholars in all academic disciplines, from social and natural sciences to the humanities throughout Japan. Thus, JSAS focuses on creating inter-cultural and inter-generational linkages between these academic disciplines, to facilitate dialogue among its diverse membership on issues affecting Africa and Asia.

Various government and privately sponsored students from Africa study towards obtaining their graduate degrees, and others are conducting field-oriented research work. Some African scholars have also secured full-time faculty positions in Japanese universities. Nevertheless, there have been very few spaces for African scholars and Japanese Africanists to present their research findings, exchange ideas and motivate each other in English (or Swahili, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and other languages that are spoken in Africa). Indeed, a sustainable Pan-Afrasian academic network was severely needed.

Similarly, an increasing number of Japanese scholars and students of African societies wish to communicate with Africans in Japan and Africa regularly and present their research outcomes in English or other languages in front of an international audience. They have realised that they should do more than just conduct fieldwork in Africa and then write papers back home in Japanese. Africans and Africanists in Japan will get enormous inspiration from one another by having a face-to-face dialogue. Our broader goal is to promote greater social justice, more widely distributed economic welfare and reduced violence.

As a forum for academic, research and policy dialogue, our specific missions include: providing a platform that uses mainly English as a medium of discourse on issues affecting Asia and Africa. While rooted in Japan-Africa relations, JSAS seeks to bring together three important and interrelated groups of scholars: African scholars living and working in Asia, African students in Asia, and Japanese/Asian scholars and other graduate students. Network members are expected to contribute towards sharpening historical sensibilities about Africa and Asia. Based on the principle of African ownership and Afrasian solidarity, JSAS welcomes participation in our conferences, workshops, and related activities.

Context to the online webinar theme

On December 31st, 2019, the WHO received the first reports of the first pneumonia-like illness from Wuhan, China. Seventy-one days later, the illness was declared a global pandemic under the name COVID-19. Today, more than one year and a half since the first reports, the pandemic has affected the global society by disrupting all forms of mobility and work. The pandemic has literally affected everyone, infected 191,855,140 and killed 4,115,649 worldwide (as of July 20th, 2021; Worldometer, 2021). These figures represent 12 times the number of infections and six times the number of deaths as compared to one year before when JSAS held its first conference on COVID-19.

Regarding the total number of infections, the United States, India, Brazil, and Russia remain as the most affected countries. However, other countries previously in the top ten in July 2020 have been replaced by new entrants. For instance, Mexico, South Africa, Peru, and Chile have been replaced by France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Colombia, and Italy in the top ten countries with the most infections and COVID-19 related deaths. At the continental level, Asia, with 31% of all infections, leads Europe (26%) and North America (22%). Although a third of the global population lives in Africa, only 3.3% of its population has been infected. While Asia leads in the total number of cases, they had the lowest number of COVID-19 related deaths. On the other hand, Europe (27.3%) and North America (22.6%), although having lower (than Asia) confirmed cases, they had higher numbers of confirmed deaths. A similar pattern was observed around the same time in July 2020 (Worldometer, 2021). One of a thousand stories that can be told based on these figures is the role of localized realities or differences in response policies from one continent to the other.

One distinct difference between July 2020 and July 2021 is the rate of administered vaccines. On December 8th, 2020, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was administered in the United Kingdom, pioneering the recognition of 12 other different vaccines by World Health Organisation as safe for Emergency Use Listing. As vaccination is now in full force worldwide, a glimpse of light shines at the tunnel end. However, new questions arise regarding equitable distribution of vaccines to developing countries in the Global South since almost all vaccines require strict cold-chain storage handling facilities. While Euro soccer stadiums in Europe were packed with COVID-19 vaccination certificate-holding spectators, the organisers of the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics decided to hold them under strict restrictions including a total ban of fans at all events.

Elsewhere in Africa and the Third World, the emergency of the delta variant has rolled them back into strict lockdowns, with shortages of the vaccines recorded in many countries. Strive Masiiwa, the leader of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, highlighted that “The EU has vaccine factories; it has vaccine production centres across Europe. [but] Not a single dose, not one vial has left a European factory for Africa […] When we have gone to talk to their manufacturers to buy the vaccine, they tell us that they are completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe” (Chakamba, 2021).

The JSAS 2021 conference brought to the fore such questions as “What role will Afrasian connectedness play in future pandemics and global shocks? What role will international relations, alliances and human connectedness play in ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine? What role can Afrasian connectedness play in helping African leaders access markets for the vaccine? Can African relations secure the vaccines for other developing Asian countries?”

While several conspiracy theories and explanations continue to mar efforts to contain the crisis, humanity has marched on in bouts of hysteria and fear; ignorance and defiance (of restrictions); scepticism (of responsive state policy, including vaccination efforts) and acceptance (as seen through a high demand for vaccination worldwide). As the virus rampages through humanity’s socio-politics and economy, changing into its various mutations along the way, it is crucial to examine ways in which human connectedness can find sustainable post-COVID-19 solutions.

As a sequel to the July 4th, 2020, webinar under the title “COVID-19 and Beyond: A Perspective from Japan and South Africa”, JSAS, in collaboration with the Graduate School of International Development (GSID) of Nagoya University and Skills and Knowledge for Youths (SKY), hosted an online conference via the Zoom platform. This year we asked, “Beyond COVID-19: What is the value of Human Capital in the New Afrasian Connectivity?” Moreover, how can Afrasian connectivity be harnessed to proffer lasting post-COIVD-19 solutions?

This year’s event drew knowledge from distinguished scholars and experts in Afrasian studies. It was structured into: a one keynote speech from Prof Izumi Ohno of National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); three comments that came from Prof. Oussouby Sacko (President, Kyoto Seika University, Japan), Prof. Liu Haifang (Peking University, China), Prof. Scarlett Cornelissen (Stellenbosch University, South Africa). A total of ten presentations were heard from various scholars. Unfortunately, Prof. Renu Modi (University of Mumbai, India), part of the star-studded line-up of commentators, could not make it due to a family emergency. The morning session was moderated by Prof Shoko Yamada of the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University.

The Keynote speech

In the keynote speech, Prof Izumi Ohno spoke on the theme “Co-Creating Knowledge for Sustainable, Inclusive, and Resilient Development: New Afrasian Connectivity for Shaping a Post-Pandemic World”. In the presentation, she contextualized the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on international development, highlighting the differences in national responses across the globe. While some countries mobilized their institutions, musicians, religious/cultural clerics, and donors to carry massive hygiene improvement campaigns (Vietnam, Madagascar); others began extensive testing and isolation procedures to monitor and contain the virus (Ghana). On the other hand, others carried rapid and extensive vaccination rollouts (Bhutan). Indeed, various nations, particularly low-income countries, managed to contain the virus and challenged the well-established ‘North-South’ flow of knowledge and solutions. The importance of localized solutions gave a new impetus to traditional approaches to development cooperation.

Prof Ohno discussed post-COVID-19 recovery through the lens of a Building Back Better approach and emphasized the need to distinguish between COVID-19 induced challenges from the long-standing structural challenges rooted in inadequate human and firm capacity building (and the role of a robust industrial policy). COVID-19 will likely have short-term problems for African states, but the more significant challenge remains in its constrained economic transformation processes evidenced by low manufacturing added value. The Coronavirus has accentuated the need for higher access to knowledge, information and technology by the public, which should have implications in Afrasian connectedness. Future international cooperation needs to focus on investing in more education, digital skills and public health for several generations post-COVID-19. In this sense, knowledge generation, research and dissemination are at the heart of development efforts in the post-COVID-19 era. She said there is a need for “Creating a learning society”, quoting Stiglitz and Greenworld (2014). Lessons from Japan’s experience will be valuable within the Japan-Africa connectedness and industrial policy sharing. Other emerging Asian cooperation partners such as China, India, South Korea, and Singapore should also focus on education and technical knowledge cooperation.

As a final thought, Prof Ohno implored African and other developing countries to be more sensitive to the “translative adaptation and process of local learning”. This process will help them identify policies, technologies, and approaches from foreign cooperation partners and capacitate themselves to adapt the “foreign models” in a manner suitable for their respective countries.

The three commentators followed up on Prof Ohno’s speech with interesting complements and challenges to her own deliberations regarding the Covid-19 crisis and international development, regarding “Building Back Better” in the post-pandemic world, and regarding Afrasian dialogue in general, and “translative adaptation” in particular.

The first commentator was Prof Sacko who is the Kyoto Seika University President, first African to head a university in Japan. He began by highlighting the need to consider geo-political realities and their roles in Afrasian connectivity. Saluting Prof Ohno’s advocacy for “translative adaptation and local learning,” he proceeded to underline the necessity to consider local knowledge in Afrasian cooperation. He also argued for the importance of the role African governments must play, especially to tackle the challenges of instability as well as to build and raise awareness of the practicability of replacing Eurocentric models with Asian models. On Japan in particular, Prof. Sacko noted that his adopted country still has a lot of challenges in adopting itself to the African framework. He concluded by asking what the role of Japan in the next stage would be. How would Japan approach knowledge transfer processes? How can she go beyond ODA and scholarships and overtake her rivals China and Korea? Why, especially, can’t Japan make better use of the many scholarship alumni? These were profound questions whose answers could be vital within the Afrasian connectiveness.

Prof Liu Haifang of Beijing University on her part underlined the importance of African connections for self-reliance. She called for localised solutions given the fact that Africans have dealt with Covid-19 relatively well despite inadequate financial resources. She argued that it was time for Africa, not only to develop their COVID-19 vaccine production facilities, but also its manufacturing sector going forward. Prof. Haifang had some sharp questions about the role of Japan in African cooperation and development. She wondered that since Japan had, for her famous “kaizen”, used a combination of both local knowledge and borrowing from outside (especially the USA), how can the Asian giant help African countries to be effective learning societies.

Prof. Haifang also noted how the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)’s approach puts much emphasis on education, and less on other sensitive sectors (politics). She wondered how Japan has navigated the political economy of cooperation within the concepts of balancing international (western) relations and African development.

Prof Scarlett Cornelissen based her own commentary on four points or questions: Firstly, on the key-note speaker’s proposed paradigm of “adaptive learning,” Prof. Cornelissen wondered how best this can be accomplished given the structural conditions/challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. By structural conditions, she was referring to youth unemployment, child poverty, food insecurity and the huge inequality in access to IT or digital infrastructure. Secondly, she raised the question and challenges of how to harmoniously approach the competition among Asian donors. This should be asked given that cooperation happens within the context of specific and particular foreign policies of these Asian giants. She highlighted the need for Africans to constantly seek win-win situations when engaging in cooperation. Thirdly, Prof Cornelissen also underlined the importance of the informal sector or economy in development and also in Afrasian connectivity. There is a need to reconcile how Asian countries’ approaches, which are pre-dominantly formal or operate within formal spaces, would rope in the informal sector when they engage with African local economies. For instance, she asked how Afrasian cooperation would reduce youth unemployment. Finally, she spoke of the importance of infrastructural development as the pathway to African development. She wondered if infrastructural development would continue to be a centre of Afrasian cooperation as seen by the belt and road initiative of China or agricultural infrastructural projects of Japan and India.

As can be observed, Prof Ohno received a lot of important but difficult questions. However, she highlighted that the first thing to do was collective action. Other issues such as geo-political challenges have always been there even during the cold-war, however, only through cooperation and collective action would Afrasian connectivity be propelled forward. “Adaptive learning” should not just be on Afrasian experiences, but should go beyond to rope in other countries in Europe and Americas to take advantage of those countries’ experiences as well. She finally explained the risk-aversive nature of Japanese companies and how it needs to change for them to enter African realities. Thus, Japan itself needs “adaptive learning”. Also, local knowledge, added to a network of African researchers and scholars should be active in informing policy in Japan. It was agreed that these questions should become part of a general discussion and should inform future scholarly work within JSAS and beyond.

Presentation Sessions

After the lunch break, ten presentations were delivered on various topics, some, but not all, related to how the pandemic had affected international relations, international development, trade, manufacturing, inequality, gender dynamics, tourism, and unemployment using case studies from across the Afrasian divide.

The first parallel session was chaired by Pedro Miguel Amakasu Raposo de Medeiros Carvalho of Kansai University. In this session, Prof. Takeshi Sato Daimon (Waseda University) opened the discussions with a presentation titled “In search of the post-pandemic post-capitalistic paradigm: Implications of China-Japan rivalry for African economy”. His view that the pandemic challenged the perversive liberal capitalism omnipresent in the global market economy made his presentation extremely appealing. In his presentation, he clarified the relationship between democracies and failure to manage the virus on the one hand and then how authoritarian regimes recorded relative successes in controlling the spread of the virus on the other. Using narrative analysis, Prof Takeshi questioned whether China could offer a new breed of neo-liberal production model within Afrasian relations. He highlighted that if this can happen post-COVID-19, it would likely reconfigure the China-Japan ‘race’ in African diplomacy and cooperation.

In his presentation titled “Comparative advantage development strategy and cross-country labour productivity growth: An approach of New Structural Economics”, Jean Fidele Sie Kauakou (Nagoya University) used estimation technics on panel data to understand different cross-country growth outcomes. He argued that after a major crisis (such as the Coronavirus), institutional quality, trade openness, and FDI do not play significant roles in improving labour productivity.

The third presentation running under the title “A New Interpretation on Failures of Industrialization in Developing Economies from the Perspective of the Industrialization Vision of State Leaders” was delivered by Kuniaki Amatsu (Keio University/Yamaguchi University). Kuniaki argued that the policymakers/leaders’ industrialization visions played a crucial role in the success or failure of a country’s industrialization drive. Thus, access to information, knowledge and technical cooperation – which inform visions – could go a long way in providing learning outcomes for developing country leaders (such as provided through international technical cooperation). Using examples from already industrialized countries such as China, Japan and India, Kuniaki proposed that some industrialization paths are likely to succeed for specific countries and fail for others.

The fourth presentation by Elvis Korku Avenyo (University of Johannesburg, South Africa) asked a simple question of “Do Productive Capabilities Affect Export Performance? Evidence from African Firms”. He undertook to produce indicators of productive capabilities and their effect on export performance using firm-level World Bank Enterprise Survey data. He found that superior productive capabilities enhanced the efficiency and competitiveness of the firm and argued that policies that support improving productive capabilities in African firms were the key to increasing value-added from the manufacturing sector. In a way, international connectedness between Afrasian companies should focus on these critical areas.

The last presenter in parallel session 1, Katz-Lavigne Sarah (University of Antwerpen), looked at the extractive sector under the theme “Conflict, distributional outcomes, and property rights in the copper- and cobalt-mining sector of the DRC”. She deconstructed an ‘aloof coexistence’ between large-scale mining firms, small-scale mining companies (that both enjoy private property rights on the mines), and artisanal minors that impeach onto the private property fields. Her findings point to the need to understand localized solutions to conflict and development; as in her case study, property rights were negotiated and contested within this aloof coexistence.

The second parallel session was chaired by Prof Yoichi Mine of Doshisha University. Dr John-Baptiste M.B. Sanfo delivered the first talk by asking, “What Explains the Rural-urban Learning Achievements Inequalities in Francophone Sub-Saharan African Primary Education”. In this talk, he deconstructs the notion of access to education and argues that access does not ensure learning. Development agents must be sensitive to child background and other school-related factors to address some of these inequalities, especially in their formative years of education. His presentation helps rethink international cooperation in education and knowledge dissemination as current approaches have resulted in substantial learning inequalities, particularly between rural-urban areas.

Ms Asmao Diallo (Doshisha University) presented a talk themed “Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on women’s socio-economic activities in Mali”. In this talk, she examined how the pandemic had reduced livelihood spaces for women, especially those in the informal trade business. These challenges had ripple effects on the women’s social lives, as evidenced by increases in inequality and dependence on male members, which increased reports of domestic, mental, and sexual violence. Her presentation gave light to the need to recognize vulnerable groups in our search for a post-COVID-19 solution. Such vulnerable groups include women, the disabled, youths, the unemployed and people in the informal sector who were particularly affected by restrictions in movement and mobility.

The following presentation by Kouame Hienzo Florence-Audrey (Nagoya University) took us to the issue of post-crisis peacebuilding under the theme “The Implementation of Transitional Justice in the Post-Conflict States: What are the Implications for National Reconciliation and Sustainable Peace in Cote d’Ivoire?” Inter and intra-country human connectedness has often been fostered through transitional justice mechanisms to varying success rates, she argued in her presentation. Using the 2010/11 Cote d’Ivoire elections as a case study, she found that transitional justices have low success in achieving peaceful coexistence, forgiveness, and social trust. The implication of this on post-COVID-19 resolutions is that in cases where widespread violence has proceeded COVID-19, such as the ongoing riots and looting in South Africa (exacerbated by COVID-19), development agents and policymakers need to go beyond transitional justices.

Ms Stephanie Evora (Doshisha University) presented the effect of COVID-19 on small island tourism in Naoshima islands. Her presentation was titled “Nissology and Inter-Island Connectivity: A Case Study of Art Tourism in the Naoshima”. Within the concept of human capital and connectedness, she examined inter-island connectivity and the implications brought by the pandemic. She found that the more the island was connected to other islands and other outside worlds, the more the residents could rely on art and tourism as a livelihood. However, the restrictions brought by COVID-19 had forced the residents to diversify their livelihood as a coping mechanism. The implication of her study, particularly to islands, is the need to diversify livelihoods to protect against international or domestic economic shocks. Development agents should cooperate in imparting knowledge on how to develop alternative livelihood strategies in small islands.

The final presentation by Adama Ousmanou (Maroua University) examined “Unemployed graduates and violent extremism in the Chad basin”. Almost echoing and hemming the garment that Prof Ohno began sowing, Adama highlighted the dangers of a continued deterioration of education and capability building in the Chad basin. He highlighted the reality of the uneducated, bored, disillusioned, and disenchanted youth who can easily be constricted into extremist activities such as Bokko Haram. Much like how the Yakuza provided a platform for swallowing the unemployed youth in older Japan, youth radicalisation is linkable to the level to which education, technical skills, and capability building are disseminated to the youth. Therefore, the implication is for international cooperation efforts to impart knowledge and information not only to policymakers and government leaders but also to the youth through various youth programs.

Concluding remarks

The keynote speech, the three comments and the ten presentations brought attention to various issues pertinent to the development of the post-COVID-19 world within the concepts of a more connected Afrasia. At the core of the conference discussion is the need to rethink and revisit the top-down approaches often used by development agents. There is a need to blend lessons from developed countries with localised realities to formulate localised solutions that recognise local parameters, gender, youths, and other groupings. Co-creation of practical knowledge for development is therefore critical.


Chakamba, R. (2021, July 1st). AU special envoy criticises EU’s COVID-19 vaccine pass, dose-sharing. Inside Development: Devex. https://bit.ly/3hPXJ9K

WHO. (2021, July). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines. Vaccines. https://bit.ly/3rnlx8a

Worldometer. (2021, July 20th). Countries where Coronavirus has spread. Corona Virus Country Cases. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/countries-where-coronavirus-has-spread/