Mr. Tomohiko Taniguchi
Special Advisor to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
TEXT: Marc Béliveau
Exclusive interview with Mr. Tomohiko Taniguchi, Special Advisor to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who attended the TICAD VI Summit in Nairobi from August 25-27, 2016. Having followed and been involved in the TICAD process for the last eight years, Mr. Taniguchi is said to be more optimistic than ever before.
—TICAD VI has been described as a very successful event because of the presence of a large number of top business leaders from Africa and Japan. More than 80 Japanese companies held exhibits to showcase their products and expertise.
I detected that the Japanese business sector has caught up with the reality of Africa.
It was almost too good to be true because a lot of us in the Japanese government have long urged the Japanese corporate sector to pay more serious attention to the growth potential of Africa, but not many people showed interest. This was in 2013. Three years on, the number of Japanese high-ranking private sector officials who showed interest surged. So finally, I detected that the Japanese business sector has caught up with the reality of Africa. Many would hope that these products, goods and services that Japanese companies can offer to Africa will be better if they bear the values of African consumers.
—Japan announced investment of $30 billion in private and public-sector funds in Africa over the next three years. How feasible will it be for the private sector to invest or spend up to $ 20 billion of this amount in such a short period?
I don’t have a crystal ball myself, but I can tell you the following; it is not a round ballpark figure. In order for the Japanese government to make an announcement of that kind, one should assume that there were many prior consultations between the Japanese government and the Japanese corporate sector. Unless they became pretty sure that this number would be achievable, the Japanese government would not have said anything like that. So, one should hope. Although, you cannot be entirely certain about what could happen in the future, but the number you mention is an achievable number.
—Until now, only a few African countries have benefited from the presence of Japanese companies. How would the deployment of new investments from the private sector in Japan be done in an equitable way?
It remains a challenge for the Japanese corporate sector. As you rightly pointed out, only a few countries have had quality positioning in accommodating Japanese investment. South Africa is one and Morocco may be another. What matters is what they could do in sub-saharan African nations. I am more hopeful than I was before, because not only big companies but also small individual entrepreneurs are paying attention, I should say for the first time, to those relatively undeveloped nations in Africa. In three years time, the picture may not have changed drastically but in five, six, seven years, you will see those relatively less advanced nations in Africa having more and more investment from Japan.
—The Japanese government has used the word “quality infrastructure” to describe the value added of its involvement in Africa. How would you define the meaning of this expression?
You cannot waste your taxpayer’s money, which is why you have to spend in a qualitative way when it comes to giving aid.
Well, “quality investment” is one of these buzz words frequently mentioned in the international community by aid donors. It is a reflection of both. Firstly, all of the governments, including Japan, are in austerity mode. “Austerity” is an objective for any government. You cannot spend your taxpayer’s money casually. You cannot waste your taxpayer’s money, which is why you have to spend in a qualitative way when it comes to giving aid. That is a domestic concern. The second one is that you must be proud of the kind of investment you do to build infrastructure that could last longer and that could involve human capital, including local human capital, that could even inspire education, the value of education, among the local people.
—Can Japan challenge China in Africa?
The Chinese investment is large and varied. It is not just big companies but also individuals that are taking risks and challenges in penetrating African nations. One has to admit – had it not been for the amount of involvement from the Chinese, the growth of Africa would have been much slower, because for many African nations, China is the biggest market for their products and the biggest source of investment.
Competing against China is a “lose-lose” game. The Japanese investment is not for competing against China. It is simply to gain profits and to be successful in selling their own products in Africa. You will find the transportation network exists in Africa, as initially developed by the Chinese, and you should take advantage of that.
You must also do your investment while being aware of what difference you could bring to African nations. I am very much convinced that this commitment to work, the dedication to work, based on the love of working, is something that bears a unique Japanese brand to many people in Africa. So, you could pursue your investment primarily to gain profits, but you should do it in a way that could differentiate who you are from the rest, including the Chinese.