During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s last visit to Africa, he emphasized, in a press conference in Ethiopia, that Japan’s focus in the continent are “young people,” who will shoulder the responsibility for the future of Africa, and women, who will give life to the continent’s future generations. Japan presents its policies regarding Africa as altruistic and humanitarian but some critics say it is driven very much by Realpolitik. In the past century, Japan’s activities in Africa have ranged from mostly business relationships to what Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls an aid-based diplomacy. What are we seeing now and what are Japan’s true intentions going forward?
Trade relations between Africa and Japan started developing significantly during World War I, with Egypt and South Africa being the main trade partners. Between the World Wars, substantial trade relationships developed between Japan and Uganda, as well as Egypt, both of which supplied cotton for the Japanese textile industry with Japan supplying manufactured goods.