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JSAS 2022 Annual Conference Report

Africa and Asia at Crossroads: Pandemic, Resilience, and Mobilities

Compiled by Compiled by KINYUA, Laban Kithinji


The Japan Society for Afrasian Studies (JSAS), a multi-disciplinary research platform for African studies in Japan and Asia, successfully held its annual conference on July 9, 2022. This year’s conference was held both virtually and with several members attending the conference physically. The conference was hosted by the African Studies Center - Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (ASC-TUFS).

2022 Conference Theme

The JSAS 2022-Tokyo annual academic conference took place as the world was still reeling from the effects and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has restructured the political, economic, and cultural lives of multiple societies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. 2022 was also the year when the Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development (TICAD) was held for the second time on African soil in Tunisia after the first one was successfully held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016. In this regard, the 2022 conference was structured with the aim of addressing issues emerging from these two realities. The conference, however, was not strictly limited to the aforementioned issues, as it was open to any relevant topic that aligned with JSAS's mission. There were two keynotes and several thematic sessions structured to address these two important themes. The sessions dwelt on the pandemic, its aftermath, and beyond, focusing on offering practical recommendations based on a wide range of academic research. The special attention to themes around TICAD was a platform to provide a dialogue with academic researchers and practitioners in the field of Japan’s engagement with Africa’s development agenda.

Our theme for the 2022 conference was "Africa and Asia at the Crossroads: Pandemic, Resilience, and Mobilities." Our main keynote sessions explored this theme in detail. This year’s event drew knowledge from distinguished scholars and experts in Afrasian studies. It was structured into two keynote speeches from Prof. Kojo Opoku Aidoo, who was a visiting professor at the Africa Studies Centre at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and Prof. Renu Modi, a Professor and Director at the Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai, India. The second keynote session had speakers who focused on topics related to the Tokyo International Development for Africa (TICAD) conference. They included Prof. Shinichi Takeuchi, the director of the African Studies Centre at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies; Prof. Katsuya Mochizuki, a Professor at the Department of International Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences at Toyo Eiwa University; Prof. Shirato Keiichi, a professor at the Graduate School of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University; and Prof. Christian Otchia, an associate professor at the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University.

The Keynote speech

This session was graciously moderated by Prof. Yoichi Mine of Doshisha University.

The first keynote speaker in the morning plenary session was Prof. Kojo Opoku Aidoo. Prof. Kojo is a political scientist and has visited and taught in Japan, China, Russia, and other countries. He has also written extensively about Ghanaian politics and development, neopatrimonialism, social movements, and globalization. He also engages in a research project on Africa-Asia relationships funded by the University of Leiden, the Netherlands.

Professor Kojo’s speech focused on how to bridge the gap between research, advocacy, and policy on COVID-19 in Africa and Asia. African society is faced with unprecedented uncertainties and ambiguities with regard to the post-pandemic future. Asia is also entangled in similar situations. The vision of Professor Kojo clearly went beyond the conventional narrative that has given weight to economic and governance reform. Instead, he proposed to organise knowledge-sharing platforms across Afrasia where policymakers, academic researchers, and advocacy groups would exchange creative ideas and consider possible solutions in heuristic ways. He mentioned the potential of Japan’s Jimotogaku method, which resembles the Nnoboa system in Ghana. Prof. Kojo highlighted difficulties between knowledge society and research on COVID-19, stating that there is a disconnection and a dysfunction between research, advocacy, and policies. He proposed a collaborative platform and network between academics and public servants in preparation for research transfer and uptake for future pandemics.

The second speaker who gave a keynote speech in the morning plenary session was Prof. Renu Modi, who participated online from India. Professor Modi graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru University and is a multidisciplinary political scientist. Migration, food security, South-South cooperation, and Indian Ocean studies are among her research interests.

Prof. Modi’s topic was centred on how to make ourselves grounded in the context of COVID 19, mobilities, and global politics. She described multiple challenges that Afrasia faces, including people’s (sometimes forced) mobility and restricted movement that tends to be seen in terms of pathology. She touched on preceding crises such as AIDS and Ebola and the resultant stigmatisation of people, as well as food security intensified by the Ukrainian crisis. Racism and structural inequalities were rampant in Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. Her topic focused on the issues that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the mobility and global politics of COVID 19. She reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on human mobility, causing stigma and discrimination, racial segregation (e.g., Africans in China and Ukraine), a lack of food security, and inadequate human security. She further mentioned how women took the lead in strategies during the pandemic by developing plans of action to combat the virus in their communities. This is one of the strong aspects of leadership development. As a learning lesson, Prof. Modi mentioned that COVID-19 has escalated other social issues, e.g., structural inequalities, lack of access to health, racism, and shelters. These are long-unresolved global issues. However, the pandemic also demonstrated the importance of human connection in social settings by taking ownership of an unfinished agenda, Kaizarr. The pandemic also strengthens the spirit of some African philosophical values in humanity, e.g., "Ubuntu,” meaning "we are because you are." She summarised the world as "one family, one earth, one health." Prof. Modi proposed a variety of solutions, including the local and global endeavour to improve people’s health in place of politically motivated vaccine diplomacy.

Keynote 2: Special TICAD 8 Panel

This panel was organised with the aim of reflecting on the history of TICAD and considering its prospects ahead of TICAD 8, which is scheduled to take place in August 2022. It was also to celebrate the very first issue of the International Journal of Afrasian Studies (IJAS), which was published in April 2022 with several articles on TICAD-related themes. This plenary session was moderated by Kumiko Makino Yamashita of the Institute of Developing Economies—Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO).

The first speaker of the panel was Prof. Keiichi Shirato (Ritsumeikan University). In his presentation titled "Origin of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD)," he outlined the findings of his article published in the IJAS. Based on diplomatic archives and interviews with former diplomats, he found that those who had initially opposed the idea of TICAD within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs later became committed, as they thought it would alleviate the backlash from Japan lifting sanctions against Apartheid South Africa. According to Prof. Shirato, TICAD's idea may have originated as a platform for mobilising support for Japan from African countries as Japan sought to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council during the 1990s. Prof. Shirato pointed out that although other Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau officials initially opposed the idea, they later committed as they came to see TICAD’s potential to open other opportunities.

The second speaker was Prof. Shinichi Takeuchi (African Studies Center, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies [ASC-TUFS]). In his presentation titled "TICAD and Japan’s Peace Policy towards Africa," he traced how Japan has tackled peace and security issues in Africa through the TICAD process. He analysed the challenges for Japan in addressing peace and conflict security in Africa and concluded that it was essential for Japan to clarify its peace policy. Prof. Takeuchi gave a brief introduction of the TICAD statement’s history. He also cited that peace and security have been one of the pillars of TICAD since 1998. Furthermore, he drew a timeline to give a panorama of Japan’s concrete actions for peace, stating that the peace-building definition for some associations in Japan is ambiguous. Further, Prof. Takeuchi analysed the challenges Japan is confronting while tackling peace and conflict security in Africa. He concluded that peacebuilding depends on the aim of materialisation for each country; therefore, Japan should reconsider its existing policies toward Africa with an indispensable clarification of peace policy.

The third speaker for the TICAD-themed plenary session was Prof. Katsuya Mochizuki (Toyo Eiwa University). In his presentation titled "Survival in Forum-shopping and/or Revision of Commitment," he approached the challenges for TICAD from the African countries’ point of view and positioned TICAD in the context of the multi-layered nature of international relations over Africa. He pointed out that in order to survive the "forum shopping" by African countries, TICAD would need to transform itself further.

The fourth and last speaker for this session was Prof. Christian Otchia (Nagoya University), the editor-in-chief of the IJAS. He introduced the articles published in the first volume of IJAS, including Prof. Kweku Ampiah’s paper titled "The Political Economy of the TICAD Process: Bureaucratic Interests and the Immobility of the Japanese Private Sector." Prof. Otchia recommended that the papers by Prof. Shirato and Prof. Ampiah be read together to gain a good understanding of the origins of TICAD and its subsequent changes.

The four presentations were followed by a lively questions and answers session, providing a good opportunity for the audience to deepen their understanding of TICAD and discuss future relations between Africa and Japan.

Thematic Sessions

The first thematic session was rich and multi-disciplinary. It was chaired by Yanyin Zi (Ph.D.) of Rikkyo University. Presentations manifested intellectual content. Boko Haram, political violence, knowledge production, and Asia-Africa cultural exchange were all discussed.The presenters exhibited deep knowledge of their respective fields and were very passionate despite the limited time. Specific topics in this session include:

  1. Nigeria Versus Boko Haram: A War Without End Nweke Ikenna Steve, University of Tsukuba

  2. The Triple Threats to Sub-Regional Stability: An Exposition of the Politics of Identity, Political Violence, and Corruption in Post-War Sierra Leone, Wusu Conteh, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

  3. Contextualizing Non-African Philosophies in African Research and Knowledge Production,Richard Ikiebe, Pan-Atlantic University, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos

  4. What do Bonten and Gr say about Japanese and Burkinabe cultures? Alain Noindonmon Hien, Tohoku University

The second session was also informative, timely, and relevant to the theme of the 2022 conference. It was chaired by Rangarirai Gavin Muchetu (Ph.D.) of Doshisha University. Presenters in this session included Fafa Sene and Atsuko Munemura, who presented passionately about vending in the streets of Dakar and the remuneration of skilled labour in South Africa during colonization, respectively. Fidele Sie presented online and talked about production capacity and value-chain participation in Africa. There were several meaningful feedbacks from the audience in the form of comments and questions, which were expertly handled and answered by the presenters.The following were the specific presentation topics:

  1. The Informal Sector's Contribution to the Socioeconomic Structure of Urban Households: A Dynamic and Cultural Representation of Dakar Street Vendors,Fafa Sene, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

  2. Deconstructing the Concept of Nimble Fingers: Remuneration of Women's Skill in 1940s South Africa, Atsuko Munemura, Chiba Keizai University.

  3. Sectoral Components, Industrial Policy, and Labor Productivity: The Role of Productive Capacities and Global Value Chain Participation in Africa, Fidele Sie, Nagoya University, GSID

In the third thematic session, we were graced by Ian Karusigarira (Ph.D.), who is a lecturer at GRIPS, as the session chair. The session was rich and multi-disciplinary. Presentations manifested intellectual content. From the questions on the money economy to decentralisation to people with disabilities to women and resilience in the age of pandemics, presenters exhibited mastery of their respective fields and held their discussions with enthusiasm. The topics discussed and the presenters were:

  1. To Control or Liberalize the Nigerian Naira Exchange Rate: The Political Economy of Currency Policy (1986-2020), Adamu W. Babagana, Doshisha University

  2. Institutionalization of Financial Failure: A Reflection on Malawi’s Democratic Decentralization, Tennyson John Moyo, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

  3. People with Disabilities and Financial Services Access: Evidence from Ghana,James Attah Peprah, University of Cape Coast

  4. Women's Power and Stories of Resilience from the Pandemic: The Role of Rural Cooperative Societies in Uganda, Vick Ssali, Aichi Gakuin University

The chair of the fourth thematic session was Babirye Rebecca of Sophia University and Tokyo Christian University, who facilitated a thriving environment for presenters and audience members to offer encouraging questions and comments. The themes were varied, ranging from technology in the classroom, gender equality in learning outcomes, social innovation in ICT, to livelihoods after the pandemic. Specific titles of the presentations included:

  1. The Impact of Parental Confidence in Using Technology on Parental Engagement in Children’s Homeschooling During COVID-19 Lockdowns: Evidence from Ethiopia and Ghana Tanzania and Zanzibar Kyoko Taniguchi, Hiroshima University

  2. Factors Explaining Gender Inequalities in Learning Outcomes in Francophone Sub-Saharan African Primary Education, Jean-Baptiste M.B. Sanfo, University of Shiga Prefecture

  3. An Implementation of a Dashboard for Evaluating Classes, Ono Yoshihiro, Kobe Institute of Computing, Graduate School of Information Technology

  4. COVID-19's Gender Impact on Small-Scale Fisheries: The Case of Eastern Asia and Western Africa, Ibrahim Issifu The University of British Columbia

Round Table

Towards the conclusion of the conference, there was a round table that was a special session dedicated to the JSAS research project funded by the Hitachi Foundation titled, "Exploration of Practical Wisdom and Resilience Overcoming Downside Risk: Collecting Grassroots Voices in Africa under COVID-19." The facilitator for this session was Prof. Christian Otchia of Nagoya University. Prof. Otchia provided basic information on the research background, purpose, members, research countries, methods, and grant. Notably, he pointed out that this research focuses on how some of the most well-intentioned efforts to reduce identified risks can increase other risks. Participants consented to the importance of such research and engaged in a lively discussion afterward. Prof. Otchia emphasised the importance of the project attempting to understand local people's perceptions of risk through their own locally driven narratives. This was stated to be only possible if the research focused on a comprehensive understanding of each country’s livelihoods and political environment.

Concluding remarks

Overall, the sessions were a tremendous success, and the shared experiences are memorable. They offered an opportunity for socialisation among scholars, which we believe enabled the strengthening of old academic networks and formed the groundwork for new-comer friendships in the JSAS fraternity. The sessions were concluded with important remarks about the need to publish the findings of various research papers with the International Journal of Afrasian Studies (IJAS).

We would like to accord special thanks to all those who made our conference a success. In particular, we would like to thank the African Studies Centre at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (ASC-TUFS) under the leadership of Prof. Shinichi Takeuchi and his team for hosting this year’s conference. We are also grateful to our keynote speakers, who graced our conference with their vital insights. We would also like to thank the session chairs, who also helped compile this report. Finally, we appreciate all the participants who made presentations during our conference. We look forward to cooperating with everyone at our future events.

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