Thirty billion. That’s the amount of money Japan promised Africa at TICAD, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. Not a small amount, and also not a small promise to keep. It’s part of a big plan to economically assist Africa. But many think that’s not the only reason Japan is stepping in.
China and Russia’s ties in Africa are getting stronger and more intertwined. China through the new silk road, and Russia through military assistance. As they are becoming more and more prominent in Africa, Japan tries to weaken these alliances by stepping in. Koert Lindeijer, correspondent in Africa for NRC, doesn’t think that will happen as fast as one may think; ‘China has been here for a longer time period. The big change came around the turn of the century when the West left Africa, China then became a big player here. The amount of money China has and has already given is a really large amount. I don’t know if Japan can even compete with such numbers.’
Because that’s what it is, a competition in Africa. But that competition might be portrayed differently in the West than how it actually is, so says Lindeijer. Russia is said to be gaining influence through its military assistance, with the so-called Wagner Group. But that influence is, according to Lindeijer, still very small. Guido Lanfranchi, Junior Researcher at Clingendael, agrees; ‘If we look at China’s influence it’s huge in Africa, and Russia’s is relatively small.’
The real contender
So, if Japan wants to compete it should be more concerned about China. The reason why Japan would like more influence is because there are some advantages for them. They would for example like a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, where Africa is the second largest voting bloc. And they also want to be a bigger player in the commercial sector there. But maybe China won’t be as big of a competitor as Japan may think.
Because there is a downside to China for Africa, Japan used it in their explanation for the big donation. They see China’s influence in Africa as a ‘debt-trap policy’ where debt is used to gain concessions from the nations that are borrowing money. Harsh words, and also clear words. The money used for infrastructure projects such as the new silk road is a loan to China which binds Africa to them. Not all Africans are happy about this. Lindeijer does agree that there are tensions from time to time on different aspects of the Chinese influence in the country, but also wouldn’t say people are necessarily very against China either. Guido Lanfranchi would call the opinions in the country very mixed.
If Japan’s efforts are in vain, that’s something only time will tell. They are promising a lot of money but if they can’t ever reach China’s level of investments, this might not even be a fight worth fighting.