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Japan /Africa Business Forum 2017, Matters Arising

japan/africa business forum


It is not very often you are called upon to be part of a conversation that involves a behemoth and a global giant (not in size as per land mass or population) but with credibility built over the decades. I am writing this piece aboard an African bird with a Livery that is authentically African and that is Ethiopian Air which like its maxim says, is the New Spirit of Africa. I am quite enamored of them and will crave your indulgence to shower on them a few unsolicited encomiums.

I am extremely proud of the airline which by the way is the flag carrier of Ethiopia and flies to 113 destinations with 92 aircraft and another 60 in order. It is currently the largest, the only government owned but privately run airline in Africa and boasts a profit to boot. It is worth mentioning, that it is the second oldest airline in Africa and started business 73 years ago.  What is more remarkable is the way they connect to major hubs in the world through Addis Ababa.

For a frequent flier and traveler like me, ability to connect is key to my work sojourn and this was given fillip by the opening of Kaduna their fifth gateway into Nigeria (Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Kano) and I must buttress they put their best aircraft’s forward-Dream liner from Boeing. For one who was flying to the land of the rising sun for the first time and flying Ethiopia air only for the second time, it was value for money and time as it was the shortest to the Asia Pacific country 17 hours with transit time. In this era of comparative advantage and competitiveness, Ethiopia Air stands out.

I digress, as a panelist at the 2nd Japan/Africa Business forum in Tokyo, the theme: Investment and Business Opportunities with Africa, organized by African Development Bank (AfDB) in conjunction with the African Diplomatic Corps Heads of Mission in Japan, resonated with me. Why? I remember reading Indian born Vijay Mahajan’s AFRICA RISING where he confessed to seeing Africa initially as a charity case rather than a market opportunity.

The former Dean of the Indian School of Business went further and I quote him copiously “I have sought to learn as much as I possibly could about the African market, what it offers, how it is structured and its potential. Others have looked at Africa through a political lens, some have engaged in economic analysis, some have examined its complex history, and others have looked at medical or social challenges’. A few have even started telling the stories of specific African businesses but my focus is on understanding the continent through the perspective of the consumer, what is the African market, what opportunities does it offer and how are companies recognizing the opportunities in Africa’s rising.’’

This book was written in 2008 and the above could not be truer in Tokyo with our Japanese hosts, nine years after. The Japanese before now have always seen us from the prism of a Continent in need of AID rather than that in need of TRADE. The onus on us Panelist from across Africa in different spheres of endeavor was to change that narrative by telling them the opportunities that abound and the way to get in.

Speaking on the panel on Agriculture and Agri- business-Enhancing the Food Value Chain in Africa, I highlighted the need for the Japanese to seek ways in which they can improve trade with the continent particularly in the area of investments in factories that turn our primary products into semi or finished products and the need to see us as partners not mendicants.

The panel comprised of the Minister of Trade and Foreign Affairs for Madagascar, the Malawian minister for Trade and Industry and the Managing Director of OCP (Moroccan Phosphate giants) and we all spoke in unison telling our audience; which comprised of the Japanese government and organized private sector.

We are a continent that represents the new frontier for bilateral trade and investment and we must not only be seen as such but treated as such.

From a geographical perspective, Japan is an Island in the Asia pacific and for a first timer like me; offered an array of experiences from the clean pristine streets, to the architectural masterpiece buoyed by technology to its culture and lifestyle. Suffice to say, it has a population of about 126million people sitting on a landmass a third of Nigeria at approximately 365,000Km². Not forgetting the culinary repertoire that Japan boasts of like sushi etal and of course for whiskey lovers of single malt, the SAKI. Longevity seems to be a birthright of oriental Japan with life expectancy of 83 years. Boasting of an ageing population…there is something about Japan and longevity…


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