African leaders must decline attending “begging meetings” in Japan, China and the rest of the world, a Kenyan professor has said.

Professor Makau Mutua, the board chair of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, labelled the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) a disgrace last month.

“TICAD is a disgrace to Africa. When will Africa stop these begging meetings?” he asked in a tweet.

“We should be ashamed of our leaders. Let’s make Africa an attractive destination for investment so we can stop begging. I can’t understand how African leaders can celebrate this atrocity! SHAME!”

Over twenty African leaders were present in 2019’s TICAD event last month. The triennial event is co-hosted by the Japanese government and the African Union.

A month after the 2019 TICAD summit, three new terminal buildings were opened at Malawi’s Kamuzu International Airport. The buildings were completed thirty-seven years after Japan built the original airport. In a PR piece distributed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan claimed that:

“The opening of the three new terminal buildings and the installation of the radar surveillance system are expected to contribute significantly to the airport’s operational efficiency; expanding its passenger handling capacity from 50 to 500 people per hour, as well as greatly improving the safety levels of the aircraft.

“Japanese companies … have played an important role in this project. They actively transferred technology to the Malawian people at the construction site. They have even organized study tours for local students in the neighbouring areas.

“Malawian government officials highly appreciated this project and said they would look forward to seeing more travellers coming to Malawi.”

In the same month, the East Asian nation said that it wanted to “re-orient” its relationship with Africa by focusing more on business.

“Japan wants the public and private sectors [in Africa] to be closely linked and hopes that they can, together, make efforts to develop Africa,” Japan’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hiroshi Karube, said.

“The priority of TICAD 7 is to strengthen relations between Africa and Japan, but also to involve the private sector in Africa’s development.”

In 2016, at TICAD 6, Japan pledged $30 billion for Africa’s development. Most of that money was invested in South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria.

“Japan’s slow investment in French-speaking countries can only be justified by language problems,” the ambassador continued.

Although Japan claims that its economic focus in Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa is due to “language problems”, the three nations are Africa’s biggest economies. Ahead of TICAD 7, Japan’s Foreign Ministry refused to release the names and number of African guests due to appear at the three-day summit. Japan Times reported that this was due to fear that China would pressure African guests to cancel their appearance at the summit.

The competition between Japan and China over Africa is akin to the race among European nations for the colonisation of Africa. It is East Asia’s neocolonialism of Africa under the guise of investment. This period of Africa’s neocolonial history with East Asia follows Africa’s history with the West, under the Washington Consensus, when Africa borrowed massively from the World Bank and the IMF. To keep imperial control over Africa, both organisations would force the continent to privatise its institutions, and to allow Western companies to head these now-private markets.

Japan, however, denies imperial strategies. “Japan respects the African population,” Mr Karube stated.

Speaking on the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said: “The DRC defines it politics, and Japan has no rights, no intention to give directions. However, if we are consulted, we are always ready to contribute. Japan will support the economic development of the DRC in the implementation of its own policies. Japan will only start considering assistance when a specific request is made by partner countries.”

Shinichi Takeuchi, head of the African Studies Center at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies said: “Africa is an important region both politically and economically. That perception is now shared by top political and business leaders of the world. A huge market will certainly be formed in Africa.”

But the view of Africa among the international community cannot continue to be one of imperialist domination. The West has already built its wealth on the domination, colonisation and enslavement of Africa. African leaders must find a way to avoid a third era of (neo)colonisation under new colonialist leaders.

Perhaps by making Africa an attractive destination for investment, especially among millennials, Generation Z and people of African descent worldwide, the continent can continue to promote Pan Africanism, offering opportunities to groups of people who have little economic power in a failing, capitalist global system.

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