Emerging Trends in Japan-Africa Relations: An African Perspective

by Seifudein Adem

Introduction

In January 2001, Yoshiro Mori made history by becoming the first-ever incumbent Prime Minister to visit Africa. Why did he decide to do this? What is the significance of the timing of the visit? What could we learn from the Japanese diplomatic style exhibited during the visit? What was the basis for selecting only three countries out of more than fifty nations as the tour’s destinations? We argue below that the need to maintain continuity in Japan’s post-Cold War Africa policy, the leadership style and priorities of the Prime Minister, as well as broader considerations of the nation’s vital interests are all factors affecting Mori’s decision to visit Africa. It is our premise that Japan-Africa relations can be best understood only if viewed broadly as a function of the interplay between economic power and asymmetric interdependence on the one hand, and culture and diplomacy on the other.

We begin by conceding that the ensuing discussion has a limitation: throughout the Prime Minister’s visit to Africa as well as prior to the visit and in its aftermath, the major Japanese media did not cover the background or analyze the overall implications of the trip sufficiently. Virtually all the major electronic and print media kept silent after announcing on 7 January 2001 that the Prime Minister had left that day on a 5-day tour of three African nations. It is, of course, true that there was a sudden surge of interest for a while in Prime Minister Mori when he was almost halfway through his tour. But the issue that sparked interest was his usage of politically incorrect language relating to pre World War II Asia, and not Africa or Japan-Africa relations.

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Seifudein Adem is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

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