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At TICAD7, China is Invisible, but Ever-Present

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP

There’s a real disconnect at TICAD7 this year. This gap isn’t between Japan and Africa. Rather it’s between the experience of being inside TICAD and how it’s represented in the media. The dominant outside narrative is that TICAD is all about China – in fact, phrasing this as Japan ‘taking on’ China in Africa has almost become a cliché.

However, the one place where China seems absent is inside the ocean liner hull of the Pacifico Yokohama conference center. Here, the mood is all about the potential for Japan-Africa business. While the summit’s long list of side events touch on many familiar developmental themes (climate change, UN Sustainability Goals, poverty reduction) the suggested solutions frequently veer away from traditional aid, towards business solutions aimed at achieving a wider good. This focus reflects a continuation of the goals for African cooperation Japan set during its G20 presidency this year, one of which was a focus on small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). This focus has been honed into a narrative of African success via Japanese investment, a new version of win-win development. In Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s words: “The Japanese government will do its utmost to support Japanese enterprises, betting on the future of Africa,”

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