Africa first with Japan

Front: Peter Sullivan, Shigeyuki Hiroki, ambassador of Japan to South Africa, and Hoosain Karjieker. Back: Professor Cycil Hartell, Daan du Toit, Xhanti Payi, Hadley
Nevhutalu and Professor Garth Lawrence Shelton. Photo: Elvis Ntombela

Front: Peter Sullivan, Shigeyuki Hiroki, ambassador of Japan to South Africa, and Hoosain Karjieker. Back: Professor Cycil Hartell, Daan du Toit, Xhanti Payi, Hadley Nevhutalu and Professor Garth Lawrence Shelton. Photo: Elvis Ntombela

In 1993, Japan launched its Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Last year the first TICAD took place in Kenya, on African soil, for the first time — a highlight for Japan and for the continent. Good things are coming, as was revealed at a post-TICAD VI seminar on 9 March, 2017 at Webber Wentzel, in Sandton — an event hosted by the Embassy of Japan and the Mail & Guardian.

After welcoming delegates to the event, Mail & Guardian chief executive Hoosain Karjieker handed the podium over to Japanese Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, who said that it was a coming of age for TICAD, which pioneered a development forum for international partnerships with Africa.

“TICAD originated because Japan could already in the 1990s forsee the continent’s future growth,” said Ambassador Hiroki. “Our partnership is particularly strategic because Japan exemplifies what Africa hopes to do.

“The TICAD model, based on principles of African ownership and international partnership, has since been echoed by various other forums and has even become the philosophical foundation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

Ambassador Hiroki said that as TICAD is a forum promoting south-south co-operation in particular, Japan is proud that it has become a prime event on the African political and development calendar, with the landmark 2016 event being attended by over 11 000 delegates.

“So far, we have identified a share of the TICAD VI package to go towards infrastructure, such as the north-south corridor and various power projects that will increase production capacity by 2 200 MW across the continent,” continued Ambassador Hiroki. “We look forward to the projects in which TICAD invests, benefitting from the robust technologies developed by Japanese companies.

According to Ambassador Hiroki, Japan has a strong trade relationship with South Africa, with total bilateral trade in 2015 amounting to more than R90-billion. “We believe true and lasting partnerships await between Japan and South Africa.

“Japan has known the hardships of post-war reconstruction and the challenges of transforming economic structure, thus offers expertise, insights and empowerment to our African partners. This is based on our own pioneering experience of creating opportunities for mutual benefit and prosperity by building networks between business partners around the world, including Africa.

Transformative programmes

“Already about 140 Japanese companies operate in South Africa alone, creating more than 150 000 job opportunities locally.”

Ambassador Hiroki told delegates that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, attended TICAD VI, where he announced a new three-year, US$30-billion Japanese investment programme in Africa’s future. He explained that these transformative programmes will be in line with the goals of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

“As friends do, we are happy to share our hard-won experience of making our Land of the Rising Sun an economic reality. We believe that this can assist the continent as a whole in improving productivity and skills for quality growth and human security.”

One of the programmes that Japan intends ramping up is greater skills exchange. Ambassador Hiroki says it is investing in human resource development to create better-skilled workforces and promote “resilient” health systems across Africa, including training 20 000 maths and science teachers as well as 20 000 experts in handling infectious diseases.

Daan du Toit, deputy director-general at the department of science and technology explained: “Our mandate is to assist in building the knowledge economy to address innovation and build the country. We do not have enough engineers and scientists coming through the ranks and we have to build human resource capital. We have to create public awareness about science and technology and we have joined forces in Japan, addressing and encouraging youth in such careers and educating society about the benefits of science. Societies need to be part and parcel of the process.”.

Japan has been requested to support artisan training by the South African government, with which new co-operation will begin this year. “Our partnerships reach all levels, including the annual funding through our grant assistance for grassroots human security as well as technical support for NGOs by Japanese overseas co-operation volunteers, who usually spend two years in local community organisations,” said Ambassador Hiroki.

“Our five-year African Business Education (ABE) initiative for youth offers 1 000 scholarships for young Africans to study master’s degrees at Japanese universities, combined with work-integrated learning in Japanese industries. So far, 83 South Africans have been awarded ABE scholarships.

“We continue to actively encourage more Japanese business to come to South Africa and Africa. Japan is ready to cooperate with Africa to make the Pacific and Indian Oceans connecting Africa and Asia peaceful and regulated by the rule of law. Just this week, South Africa was elected to the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and Japan looks forward to continued positive co-operation with IORA member states,” he concluded.

Universal health coverage

Pretoria is an example where South Africa has the best experience on many diseases, not just African, but in the rest of the world, according to Tomas Roubal, health economist, World Health Organisation.

“Japan has one of the best health systems for the amount it spends which is actually lower than here and the quality of life is longer and healthier. We need to build capacity of health workers and health economies. South Africa’s situation is also unique in its quadraple burden of diseases,” said Roubal.

He believes that the exchange of experience will lead to innovations such as access to service delivery, especially to the poor in disadvantaged communities.

“There is the challenge of increasing the affordability of the private sector which is somehow unregulated [quite] the way it is overseas,” continus Roubal. “It has huge skills. We are working with the Japanese to understand how to get all of these to pull together to create universal services for all – a cohesive system where everyone has access to the system.”

Concurs Hadley Nevhutalu, chief director, provincial field management support, National Department of Health: “It is critical to know who the beneficiaries of health resources are.

“We obviously have to improve the health system, but we do not have systems that talk between all nine provinces.We need to mobilise more resources coming into the economy and learn from the Japanese to do our oversight and try and bring all sectors together – public, private and donors and find how to use all these partners so that we can come up with a resilient health system.”

Promises kept

While Africa’s tales of war, famine, disease and political shenanigans continue to grab headlines, many good things happen across our continent, said well-known South African journalist, Peter Sullivan, chairman of Amrop-Landhelani and previously editor of The Star and group editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers.

“Why do I love Japan? People in that country are taught to make sure the other person is okay, before worrying about themselves. You see it even with small children, each one making sure the other is okay. You see it in the civilised behaviour in the attention to detail, the absolute belief in zero tolerance for shoddy work.”

Sullivan said that in 2016 Japan pledged good things at TICAD VI. President Zuma was there, along with scores of other African heads of state, because Sullivan says they have come to realise that “when Japan makes promises, they tend to be kept.”

He urged all journalists to save space for the good happening in Africa, including the outcomes from TICAD and other conferences that highlight where power, road, rail, water and broadband infrastructure are underway or completed. “Reporting about all of these issues affects the continent’s people.”

From the seminar

The only centre in Africa for Japanese studies, GIBS does its best to bring experts in their fields here and has positioned itself as centre for business interactions to promote mutual understanding between Africa and Japan through collaboration, conferences and seminars. Japan also learns from us!” — Professor Cyril Hartell, director: Centre for Japanese Studies, University of Pretoria

“TICAD means a special kind of partnership with Africa. It is not Japan imposing an agenda on us but mobilising international support for Africa. In 1990, people were forgetting Africa and Japan is promoting Africa. This creates enormous opportunities – both business and academic. Of utmost importance is that we make an environment conducive for Japan. One of the biggest aspects is peace, stability and security, without which we will not receive investment. Japan is the third biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping and peacekeeping is a very important part of investment.” — Professor Garth Lawrence Shelton, associate professor, University of the Witwatersrand

The JET Programme

The government of Japan offers South African graduates opportunities through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, which enables South Africans to join young people from around the world to spend up to five years teaching English in Japanese schools, while gaining valuable life skills and work experience.  JET intends to enhance internationalisation through mutual understanding between the people of Japan and those of other nations. It promotes international exchange at the local level through the fostering of ties between youth. South Africa joined the JET programme in 1997 and since then, 567 South Africans have participated in the programme.