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Editorial: Japan’s smaller businesses the key to long-term support of Africa

  • August 26, 2016
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 13:25
  • English Press

Africa has shown remarkable development in the 21st century, with middle classes growing and consumer spending surging. Urban areas in many parts of Africa are vibrant with young and energetic populations.


But signs of trouble have appeared in this fast-growing continent.


After chugging along at rates close to 6 percent, the economic growth of sub-Saharan Africa slowed to less than 4 percent last year. The region has been hit hard by falling resource prices.


The Ebola epidemic was a grim reminder that infectious diseases still pose a serious threat to the lives of African people. Waves of violence by extremist groups have also continued to plague the continent.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attending the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) that will be held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Aug. 27-28. The principal topic at the conference will be how to bring Africa back on a stable growth track.


Many challenges must be tackled to achieve the goal. They include: weaning Africa from its dependence on resources and diversifying its industries; establishing an effective public health system to fight infectious diseases; and building a stable society where young people are not attracted to extremist thoughts.


Japan should figure out effective ways to support Africa’s development through dialogue with African countries.


Africa, whose population will reach 2.5 billion in 2050, is seen as the world’s “last big market.” Lured by the continent’s growth potential, China and major Western countries have been pouring money into Africa in a heated investment competition.


More than 150 Japanese companies are visiting Kenya, which is hosting the first TICAD in Africa. This reflects the Japanese business community’s strong interest in creating a foothold for expansion into the continent.


African countries, for their part, hope to receive more private-sector investment as well as government aid.


Japanese companies should try to see the situation in Africa from the viewpoint of African people. The companies should also pay sufficient attention to the problems created by rapid economic growth in recent years.


Food productivity is low in Africa, forcing the continent to depend on imports for much of its food.


Disparities are widening between urban and rural areas and between the middle class who benefit from economic growth and the poor who have been left behind.

Many African countries promote development through strong-arm measures, such as restricting political activities of opposition parties and citizens.


One example is Ethiopia, whose problem was highlighted dramatically by a silver medalist from the country at the Rio Olympics. As he crossed the finish line in the men’s marathon, the Ethiopian runner made a gesture of protest against the government’s suppression of his tribe.


If African countries fail to provide sufficient jobs and food to their rapidly growing populations, a division in society may deepen, reversing the growth process and creating a serious crisis.


To prevent such a situation, Japan should use its resources in areas where it is competitive. Small and midsized companies have a crucial role to play in such efforts.


The seeds of small and flexible enterprises that capitalize on local capabilities have already been planted in Africa. They include food-processing businesses focused on local specialties, retailers of locally made sundry goods, restaurants offering dishes made from locally produced foodstuffs, and projects to promote the use of eco-friendly fuels.


Long-term involvement through many small-scale businesses–not necessarily huge projects involving big money–would bolster the foundation for development.

The current wave of interest in Africa should not be allowed to end up a short-lived boom. We should invest in the future of Africa.


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