As China, the US, and Russia vie for Africa's favor and the attention of its leaders, Japan has taken a more nuanced approach by utilizing its bilateral agencies—specifically the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD)—to support global development. These entities have also been leveraged to help fund technology investments such as subsea cable investment and Project Ninja (a startup support initiative by JICA, launched in January 2020 to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and the creation of new businesses in emerging countries).
The scope of China's actions in Africa, particularly initiatives like The Belt and Road Initiative, dwarfs Japan’s engagement on the continent. Still, the advantage Japan has against China is that it is home to some of the world's leading consumer electronics, technology, and semiconductor industries using artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technology. As Africa scales to 2.5 billion by 2050, the Japanese government should leverage the collective might of its private sector multinationals to partner, collaborate on research, and gain future customers with African partners.
The potential for emerging technology in Africa
The potential for emerging technology in Africa is vast. With a future population of 2.5 billion people, the continent presents a huge market opportunity for businesses to tap into. For Japanese companies, there is a massive middle class opportunity waiting to be exploited. However, simply building partnerships and scaling up existing technologies will not be enough to realize Africa's full potential. What is needed is a concerted effort to develop new and innovative technologies that can address the specific needs of the continent through partnerships. This is where AI could play a vital role.
By harnessing the power of AI, businesses and governments can unlock a range of solutions that can help boost economic growth, improve infrastructure, and deliver social services more effectively. For instance, AI can be used to develop predictive analytics that can help identify areas most at risk of drought or famine. It can also be used to develop better agricultural practices, track disease outbreaks, and provide early warning systems for natural disasters. In short, the potential for emerging technology in Africa is huge. But realizing this potential will require a collaborative effort from all stakeholders involved.
The Japan-Africa emerging technology partnership
Japan can play a pivotal role in collaborating with African researchers and partners to scale emerging technologies research to the next level. With a large number of Africans having obtained PhDs and other high-level degrees from Japanese universities, plus Japan's leading work in semiconductors, biotechnology, and agriculture, the ”Land of The Rising Sun” has an opportunity to employ its technology reputation and favorability to support emerging technology innovation throughout the Africa continent. This will be crucial for supporting the future demographic of 2.5 billion people. In particular, Japan's expertise and international clout can be used to support deep tech research in Africa. This includes areas such as medical technology, agriculture, and biotechnology. Also, as the second-largest pharma and medtech market, Japan has an opportunity to support indigenous African pharma and medtech companies. By providing training and support for African researchers in these areas, Japan can help create a new generation of African leaders in emerging technologies. In turn, this will help Africa become more prosperous and competitive on the global stage.
Furthermore, with the geopolitical status of semiconductors and the recent approval of the US Chips and Science Act, Japan has a chance to collaborate with African partners to cultivate high-technology progress in semiconductors, flash memory, and electric-battery innovations, for which most of the base components are harvested from Africa. To take it one step further, Japan could take the helm in providing backing for producing electric batteries for electric vehicles on African soil.
Scaling TICAD to the next level
The potential for the Japanese government to support emerging technologies and AI development for Africa's future is significant. Japan has several bilateral institutions and private sector companies that can be leveraged to support deep tech research and development in Africa. This would help to accelerate the pace of African development and bring about transformative changes in the continent. There is a growing recognition in Japan of the importance of Africa as a market for Japanese products and services. There is also an increasing awareness of the need to support African countries as they seek to develop their own economies. These factors create an environment in which the potential for cooperation between Japan and Africa on research and development is strong.
The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) was launched in 1993 to promote economic cooperation between Japan and Africa. Since then, TICAD has evolved into a platform for discussing a wide range of issues related to African development, including infrastructure, health, education, and agriculture. In 2013, TICAD IV was held in Yokohama, and TICAD VI took place in Nairobi in 2016. TICAD VII was hosted by Senegal in 2019. The theme of TICAD VII was "Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation." One of the key goals of TICAD VIII was to mobilize financing for Africa's development needs. To this end, the Japanese government pledged in August 2022 $30 billion in new financing for African development over a three year period. This includes $10 billion in official development assistance (ODA) and $20 billion in private-sector investment.
The potential collaboration between Japan and Africa, though two vastly different regions and cultures, can demonstrate the remarkable strength of cooperation. The Japanese private sector has a long history in building world-renowned companies through utilizing research and innovation and by using emerging technologies and AI. These developments have given Japanese multinationals global brand recognition and influence.
As the African middle class expands and gains access to disposable income, cultivating brand name recognition and providing products and services for this rising market will be essential for Japanese multinationals to gain a firm foothold. There is potential for Japan to leave its mark on Africa's growth, as well as to set itself apart from China and others by drawing on its distinctive array of research, innovation, and consumer electronics for the future African demographic of 2.5 billion.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.
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