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Lessons from Japan

President Muhammadu Buhari was among 25 African Heads of State who flew to Tokyo, Japan, to participate in this year’s Seventh Tokyo International Conference on…

President Muhammadu Buhari was among 25 African Heads of State who flew to Tokyo, Japan, to participate in this year’s Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7) from Wednesday, August 28 to Friday, August 30, 2019. The conference, which was instituted in 1993 and held every three years since 2013 has as its objectives the “economic transformation and improvements in business environment and institution through private investment and innovation [and the] promotion of resilient and sustainable society for human security, peace and stability,” according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The highpoint of this year’s conference was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge of $20 billion private sector investment in Africa in the next three years. In his opening speech at TICAD7, the Japanese leader said, “The government of Japan will put forth every possible effort so that the power of Japanese private investment, of $20 billion in three years, should in the years to come be surpassed anew from one day to the next.”

The conference was a rallying point for Africa as several international bodies, including United Nations, World Bank, UNDP, African Union Commission, international organizations, development partners, private companies, civil society…participate. The specific benefits from Nigeria included a $300,000 Japanese pledge for the Nigerian Defence College and ¥12 million for Nigeria’s health sector. At the conference, Nigeria and the European Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding for €50 million “to support humanitarian and development efforts in the North East.”

Though Japan’s investment in Nigeria [and other African countries] remains a far cry when compared with those of China, France, India, and US, African leaders have a lot of lessons as take-aways from the Asian country. Japan has had more than its fair share of crises, beginning with its invasion by the US in 1853, a civil war in 1867, invasion during World War II that ended in 1945, and effects of the Korean War from 1950-1953. Many African countries do not have such history of adversity. However, through national consensus, determined leadership, emphasis on human capital development, and technological innovations, Japan has triumphed and become one of the economic powers in the world.

For Africa, Japanese ability to build national consensus as the foundation for its prosperity is a crucial lesson. Most African countries are plagued by ethnic fragmentation, which gives birth to ethnic patronage rather than allegiance to the nation-state. In many countries, including Nigeria, there is intensified inter-ethnic and regional rivalries, mainly aimed at competition to access state resources for selfish purposes. This way, political leadership in Africa is about sharing the resources that accrue from natural resources’ rents. Leaders hardly engage in genuine efforts to expand the economies of Africa. For this reason, African leaders travel from continent to continent, with cap in hand, pleading for development aids, elusive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and are caught in the snare of poisonous loans.

Japan overcame its adversities by enacting a ‘catch-up’ with the West policy. It emphasized industrialization, put in place and implemented industrial policies, deliberately sent Japanese to the West to study in its effort to promote human capital development, and invested heavily in science and technology. Today, Japan is one of the countries that export motor vehicles, heavy machinery and all sorts of hitech products. These are the things Africans should take away from Japan, not grants.

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