Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Picture: REUTERS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Picture: REUTERS

Yokohama — Jockeying for a stronger position on a continent that critics say is too reliant on China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to step up efforts to promote private sector investments in Africa.

Speaking this week at a three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad), Abe told more than a dozen African leaders, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, that his government would provide “limitless support” to Japanese companies seeking to invest in the continent.

“I make this pledge to you: the government of Japan will put forth every possible effort so that the power of Japanese private investment of $20bn in three years should, in the years to come, be surpassed anew from one day to the next,” Abe said.

“We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa. New Ticad will provide limitless support.”

As it grapples with higher social security spending to support its ageing population and the cost of servicing the world’s heaviest public debt burden, Japan is not in a strong fiscal position to compete with neighbour China’s overwhelming presence and state-to-state lending in Africa. ​

Last September at a summit with African leaders in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60bn in financing for Africa and wrote off some debt for the continent’s poorer nations. China’s trade with Africa totalled $200bn last year, more than 12 times the value of trade between the continent and Japan.

Abe’s pledge to harness private sector investments on the continent gives Ramaphosa an outlet to pitch SA as part of his global campaign to attract $100bn in new investment over a five-year period.

“This target is an ambitious one, and we realise that in order to achieve it we need to offer much support to investors,” Ramaphosa told delegates at the port city of Yokohama.

The SA president also met with executives from carmaker Nissan on the sidelines of the conference but it’s unclear if the manufacturer has made any fresh investment pledges, having already said it would spend R3bn to enable its Rosslyn assembly plant in SA to build the Navara bakkie range from 2020.

Ramaphosa, who swept to power on promises to clean up government and boost economic growth, has already attracted nearly $20bn through his investment drive aimed at boosting an economy struggling to break out of its longest downward cycle since the 1940s. 

But his economic revival plan is failing to gain momentum as business leaders at home worry the government is too slow to push structural reforms to contain the financial crisis at Eskom, the supplier of more than 90% of electricity, and rein in a rising sovereign debt burden.