The Dynamics of Japan's Relations with Africa: South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria

By Banfield, Jessie | African Business, May 1998 | Go to article overview

The Dynamics of Japan's Relations with Africa: South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria


Banfield, Jessie, African Business


By Dr Kweku Ampiah

To those who follow world events, based on the information generated by the loudest narrator of those events, the West, these two geographical entities are not only vastly different (one rich, industrialised and coherent, the other poor, agrarian and diverse), but also seemingly unrelated. As the author of this book notes in his introduction, it is undeniably the case that Africa has never been a major area of focus in Japanese foreign policy, and as a result, relations between the two have been, he argues, overly neglected from scholars. Japan has however, since the Second World War, become one of Africa's largest aid donors and a key trading partner for certain African countries. This book describes these increasingly important relationships and offers a fascinating account of the motives and aims which inform them.

Japanese policy in Africa does not at first glance seem entirely consistent. As befits the richest member of the UN's Afro-Asian group, it has donated large amounts of aid -- an apparently philanthropic redistribution of its wealth. In 1987, according to Ampiah, it distributed $500m in aid to 11 sub-Saharan African countries. Meanwhile, throughout the Apartheid era, and especially during the 1970s and 80s, Japan defied the sentiments of the Afro-Asian group and even, increasingly, the wider global consensus, by becoming Pretoria's largest trading partner; thus, as many saw it, profiting from and condoning its racist economy.

The OAU sent repeated missions to Japan passionately protesting this double-dealing. In 1973 the Ethiopian OAU ambassador used the uncompromising words: "Japan is interested in Africa's natural resources and we welcome you to invest and develop Africa. But economic ties are not enough. We expect Japan as an Asian nation to give its political support to the struggle against the minority regimes. All other Asian nations [ldots] have supported us and I warn you that Japan will be isolated from the Afro-Asian group unless it joins us now. …

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