On the back of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Japanese cumulative FDI in Africa increased from $3.9bn in 2007 to $10bn in 2016.
The big challenge will be diversifying the range of the country’s trade partners in Africa beyond the handful of countries that currently dominate Japanese trade relations with the continent – South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria.
In 2017, Japan exported goods worth $7.5bn to Africa, including $2.5bn to South Africa, and imported $8.3bn, of which 57% came from South Africa, including iron ore and platinum.
The two biggest sectors for Japanese investment in Africa are mining and hydrocarbons, particularly in Mozambique, where Mitsui & Co has invested billions of yen in coal and gas projects.
Such investment is backed by the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), which works to ensure “a stable supply of natural resources to Japan”.
Although commodity investments have become more uncertain since the commodity price downturn of 2014-17, they are still likely to lead the way on Japanese investment in Africa for the foreseeable future.
The most important Japanese exports to Africa over the past decade have been motor vehicles. Toyota and Nissan dominate the roads from Cairo to Cape Town. Japanese electronic goods, particularly TVs are also hugely popular in the continent.
There is also a thriving business in quality second-hand cars, particularly in the countries of Anglophone Africa, which like Japan use right-hand drive vehicles.
In addition, Japan has been the biggest Asian project finance sponsor in Africa over the past five years. M&A activity by Japanese firms in Africa has generally been fairly limited, although Nippon Telegraph and Telephone bought South Africa’s Dimension Data for $3.2bn in 2014.
Tokyo is encouraging the expansion of Japanese SMEs and startups in Africa (see below), but the number of big Japanese firms investing in Africa is also increasing, from NTT in the IT sector to Kansai Paint in the paint and coatings sector.
Toyota Tsusho Corporation has one of the most comprehensive networks on the continent, with a sales network covering 53 African countries and a variety of sectors in addition to the automotive industry.
Japanese firms still tend to be reluctant to invest in a region where they have little experience.
As Katsumi Hirano, executive vice president of the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), told the African Law & Business website in March: “[Japan] enjoyed a long historical economic relationship with our neighbour nation countries. So [Japanese companies] see much more potential still in the Asian region. That is one reason why the Japanese commitment in Africa is so low”.
However in the run-up to TICAD 7 more and more Japanese companies are becoming interested in Africa. The Japan Business Council for Africa has been created as a platform for the private sector.
Made for Africa products
The number of Japanese companies operating in Africa has increased from 520 in 2010 to 796 in 2017, but the Japanese government hopes to greatly increase that figure in the near future.
“There are, of course, Japanese companies that have built up robust business foundations in Africa,” said Hirano in a recent article published by the Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies. “A distinctive feature of these companies is that they have secured human resources through aggressive M&A. The problem lies in the small number of such global Japanese companies.”
He said that while the number of global Japanese companies dropped off after the resource boom came to an end, “the outcomes of up to 1,000 new investments made in Africa each year greatly impact the level of presence of companies from around the world, and this is where the investment efforts of Japanese companies are vulnerable.” As a result, Tokyo is encouraging Japanese SMEs and startups to invest in Africa.
Some ventures have been launched as development projects with donor support but with the expectation that they will operate commercially in the longer term. For instance, Nippon Biodiesel Fuel, a Japanese startup, last year launched AgriNet in parts of Asia and Africa to connect farmers with banks and a wide range of stakeholders in the agribusiness sector. Farming villages in Mozambique can also secure financing through the website.
The UN’s World Food Programme is investing $3.5m in the project in Mozambique over three years but Nippon Biodiesel expects the venture to be operating commercially after that time.
Farmers within a single village can also band together to sell their crops via the AgriNet platform, once they have established themselves as reliable partners on the website.
Microfinance providers can supply the data needed to establish a potential client’s creditworthiness. Payments are made by money mobile and it is hoped that the income of participating farmers will increase by at least $1,000 a year.
Japanese energy startup WASSHA provides off-grid electricity through solar PV kiosks operated by local partners that allow solar lamps, mobile phones, tablets and radios, among other devices, to be charged for those without access to electricity at home.
The kiosks are equipped with a PV panel, battery, the WASSHA power device with USB ports and a smart phone as a controller. Customers can buy power through mobile money, meaning that no physical money actually changes hands, while agents lease rather than buy kiosks and the associated technology, removing the need for upfront investment.
WASSHA’s technology allows agents to check all transactions, including sales and customer information, via remote management, while the level of charge in the kiosk battery can also be monitored remotely.
Yamaha Motor has developed a water purification system following research and development in Africa and Asia over a decade. The Yamaha Clean Water Supply System requires no replaceable filters, high power consumption or maintenance by skills technicians.
Water is stored in a pre-treatment tank where silt, mud and other debris are removed. A chlorine solution disinfects the water, before metals and bacteria are removed by sand filtration and a microbial biofilm.
The system is already being used in Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo and Ghana. Some of the villages with the system are able to sell their surplus potable water to neighbouring villages.
Major infrastructure projects
At TICAD VI, Tokyo committed to supporting $30bn in public private investment in infrastructure between 2016 and 2018.
Infrastructure projects funded by Japanese aid and undertaken by Japanese companies generally have a reputation for the high quality of the construction and engineering work undertaken.
The transport sector in particular has benefitted from this injection of capital. Last October, the new $140m bridge over the Nile was completed in Jinja, Uganda, with lending from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The bridge is located on the main highway that links inland countries of East Africa such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. Ensuring the bridge’s construction had long been a priority for the government of Uganda, as a lack of capacity on the existing Nalubaale Bridge had caused congestion.
At the opening ceremony, Yutaka Fukase, the chief representative of the JICA Uganda office said that JICA had emphasised safety, the environment and social concerns on the construction project.
A large slice of infrastructure funding has been directed at the port sector. JICA has financed the construction of new container terminals at the ports of Nacala in Mozambique and Mombasa in Kenya in the form of both loans and grants. Japanese interest in Mozambique is partly driven by demand for coal and so port development has been complemented by financing for the associated coal railway.
Two Japanese companies, Penta-Ocean Construction Co Ltd and Toa Corporation, have been awarded a series of contracts to develop the Port of Nacala, including one for Y25.6bn ($232m) last year to dredge the access channel, reclaim land for the new container terminal and provide rail access. Nacala is reputed to have the deepest natural harbour anywhere on the east coast of Africa.
Japanese interest in Southern African coal increased after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster saw nuclear power production fall and coal imports rise as demand for thermal power production increased.
Mozambique is doubly of interest because it will become a globally important liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter within five years: aside from nuclear power, coal and LNG are the bedrock of the Japanese generation mix.
In 2013, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry identified Mozambique as one of its most important potential energy suppliers. Apart from the power sector, Brazilian firm Vale’s Moatize mine supplies Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal with coking coal for steel production.