Japan’s Role in Africa: Principle, Pragmatism and Partnership

  • Scarlett Cornelissen


Introduction Japan has been an important actor in Africa‟s international relations over the past few decades, although its role tends to be understated in most analyses of Africa‟s ties with the large powers. The Asian country‟s economic and aid relationship with the African continent has been highly variable, shaped by changing foreign policy objectives and internal political conditions in Japan, and changing reorientations and expressions of agency in African diplomacy. In recent years the emergence of new players from Asia in Africa‟s economy and politics (most notably the People‟s Republic of China) has nearly overshadowed the role that Japan has played on the continent; this eclipse of Japan reinforced by the country‟s relative decline as a major aid power. Yet Japan is still an important partner for the continent, being the source of a not insignificant volume of development assistance, and for some African countries, of investments in key sectors. Indeed, Japan contributes nearly one-third of all aid flows to Africa from the OECD‟s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), and as a member of the G8, has been instrumental in sustaining the forum‟s „Africa Agenda‟ over the years. It was on the initiative of the government of Japan, as host of the Okinawa Summit in 2000, for instance, that African leaders were first invited to be present at G8 proceedings, an early progenitor of the G8‟s later Heiligendamm outreach programme. Following and sometimes setting the example for Western G8 members, Japanese leaders also tended to use the G8 setting for pronouncements about Africa‟s plight and for pledges of aid doubling.