H.E. Mr. Jérôme Klôh WEYA
Ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire to Japan
JAPAN and the WORLD conducted interview with H.E. Mr. Jérôme Klôh WEYA to collect his thoughts about the first ever ECOWAS-Japan Business Forum.
—In October 2015 the first ever ECOWAS – Japan Business Forum was held in Tokyo. How important was it for you Excellency to see this Forum happen with Japan? What were your expectations and what are the outcomes of this Forum for Côte d’Ivoire?
I would like to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to talk about Côte d’Ivoire to a Japanese audience through your magazine.
Before answering your question, allow me to make a brief presentation of the ECOWAS region.
ECOWAS area is not well known by Japanese people because of the distance between that part of the African continent and Japan. Therefore, I would like to give a brief presentation on ECOWAS.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was created in 1975, includes fifteen member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo). Ten of them (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo) are represented in Japan. The ECOWAS Headquarter is in Abuja, Nigeria.
ECOWAS represents a big market of about 350 million inhabitants with a soil extremely rich in natural resources.
By organizing this Forum, our goal was to showcase the ECOWAS region to Japanese people.
My expectations were to strengthen the bilateral relationship between both countries by attracting more Japanese people and businessmen to come to Côte d’Ivoire and, on the other hand, to give Ivorian businessmen the opportunity to promote their businesses to the Japanese market.
The Forum was a great success. It recorded more than 360 participants from the Japanese side and around 140 from the ECOWAS side.
—This Forum was an exceptional opportunity for the Japanese business community to have a better understanding of the West African region and further identify areas of investments. Can you please tell us about the Côte d’Ivoire-Japan relationship today and what are the main challenges to overcome in order to increase partnerships with Japan?
Japan and Côte d’Ivoire enjoy excellent relations since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries after gaining independence in 1960. Since then, Japan has consistently been supporting Côte d’Ivoire in its development efforts.
Our relations with Japan are excellent, but the volume of trade between our two countries remain low, despite the enormous potentials. Therefore, I keep inviting Japanese businessmen to come to Côte d’Ivoire to discover the wealth of opportunities in terms of investment, through public-private partnership. There are already some Japanese Companies present in Côte d’Ivoire, such as Ajinomoto, Itochu, Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni, Toyota Tsusho Corporation that we are very proud of and thankful for. Yet I hope that the number of Japanese companies will increase in the near future.
The forum also provided an opportunity to promote the tourism of Côte d’Ivoire.
We have a variety of places that we have been strongly promoting, such as:
- The Basilica Notre Dame de la Paix of Yamoussoukro, the biggest Catholic church in the world.
- The historic City of Grand-Bassam, the first capital of Côte d’Ivoire, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
- The weavers of Tiébissou, in the centre of the country.
- The mosque of Kong, in the northern part of Côte d’Ivoire, built before 1741.
Regarding the challenges to overcome, I would like to cite two cases with their practical solutions.
The first one is distance. As some Japanese may think that Côte d’Ivoire is far from Japan. However, Côte d’Ivoire is not far. Four airlines serve Côte d’Ivoire from Japan, namely Ethiopian Airline via Addis Ababa, Air France via Paris, Emirates Airlines via Dubai and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.
The other challenge is the language barrier. French is the official language in Côte d’Ivoire but many local people can speak English. Furthermore, most of those who have studied in Japan speak fluent Japanese. Some of them who have returned home could serve as local staff for Japanese companies that plan to set up or to do business in Côte d’Ivoire.
In addition, more information on economic potential and the business environment in Côte d’Ivoire is available at the Abidjan offices of JETRO and JICA as well as the Embassy of Côte d’Ivoire in Japan.
—Excellency, in September 2015, Côte d’Ivoire was celebrating its 55th anniversary of independence in Japan, which was a chance to understand that the relationship between Japan and Côte d’Ivoire is strengthening on many levels. What are your objectives and expectations for 2016?
I would like to take advantage of this interview to express my appreciation to all the guests that joined us to celebrate, in particular to the following distinguished personalities:
- Hon. Yasutoshi NISHIMURA
State Minister of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet office.
- Hon. Hidemichi SATO
Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
- Hon. Ichiro AISAWA
Chairman of Japan-AU Parliamentary Friendship Association.
- Hon. Daishiro YAMAGIWA
Former State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.
- Hon. Asahiko MIHARA
Secretary-General of Japan-AU Parliamentary Friendship Association.
- Hon. Tetsuro YANO
President of AFRECO.
I would like to extend my apologies to all those who I have not mentioned.
In terms of objectives, I can say that the main one is to further strengthen the good relations of friendship and cooperation in various fields between Côte d’Ivoire and Japan.
An example of this willingness is the creation of the Japan-Côte d’Ivoire Friendship Association on October 23rd 2015, which was officially launched on November 13th, 2015.
This association, which I called for, since I took up my duties in September 2011, is composed of the leaders of major Japanese industrial and commercial Companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire or having a project there, as well as all Japanese who have an interest in any sector in Côte d’Ivoire.
I thank JICA and all people involved in this initiative for selecting Ivorian participants and I hope that more applicants from Côte d’Ivoire will succeed the next selection.
I think that the ABE Initiative will give stronger guaranties to Japanese companies that plan to set up businesses in Africa. Indeed, the Initiative will become the real bridge between Japanese Companies and Africa, and in particular between the Japanese Companies and Côte d’Ivoire.
—Does sport play a key role in the promotion of Côte d’Ivoire in Japan?
Of course, sport plays an important role in bringing people together. And the match between Japan and Côte d’Ivoire during the last World Cup gave an opportunity to Japanese people to know Côte d’Ivoire.
I avail myself of this opportunity to thank the Japanese Authorities for their support to the promotion of sports in Côte d’Ivoire, in particular Judo. Thus, during his visit to Côte d’Ivoire in January 2014, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered some equipment to the Ivorian Federation of Judo. He also attended a Judo tournament.
I will conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to “JAPAN and the WORLD” for giving me this special opportunity to present Côte d’Ivoire to its readers and to the Japanese audience.