Extending an open arm to the neglected

Hitoshi Kikawada, Parliamentary Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs and member of the House of Representatives of Japan, was in Addis Ababa for an official visit where he met with government officials to discuss bilateral and international issues. During his visit, Kikawada met with Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Communications and Information Technology. The two officials discussed the issue of economic cooperation that has been established so far. In his meeting with Taye Atsekesellasie, state minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the vice minister discussed the possible scenarios of reforms in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – to which Japan is a member and Ethiopia is lobbying to become one. Without detailing the discussions, Kikawada said that his mission intended to seek more bilateral ties with Ethiopia. At the end his visit on Thursday, Birhanu Fikade of The Reporter met and sat down with the Vice Minister at the Embassy of Japan located off Africa Avenue to talk about Japan’s intentions to finance an industrial park, which the Government of Ethiopia pledged to allocate for Japanese companies.  The vice-minister talked about how the government of Japan is working towards strengthening Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia, the sixth edition of the Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD), which is set to be held on African soil for the first time since its inception. He argues that TICAD was devised to help Africa since the early 1990s when the rest of the world was silent towards Africa:

The Reporter: Let us start with your visit to Ethiopia. What was the purpose of your visit and what were your discussions with Ethiopian officials?

Hitoshi Kikawada: My visit to Ethiopia has two reasons. One is to strengthen bilateral ties we have. The other issue relates to the discussion regarding the UNSC reform. On Thursday, I met with Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD). I also have met with Taye Atskeselassie, state minister of foreign affairs. The discussions I had with Debretsion were related to economic cooperation between our two countries.  We discussed the UN Security Council issues with state minister Taye.

Japan is extremely advanced and is a hi-tech savvy nation. In contrast, Ethiopia is an agrarian economy. Where exactly is the borderline for the two nations to have mutual economic, business or investment relations?

The reason Ethiopia is attractive for us includes the country’s political stability, competitive labor cost and the development process of electric power supply. I think Ethiopia has the potential for industrialization. Ethiopia is very much engaged in the implementations of Kaizen very well. I think we can also engage ourselves for the realization of Ethiopia’s aspirations towards becoming an industrialized nation. We have a strong sense of Kaizen as our Ethiopian good friends have. Therefore, we are on the same page and can take the same step to gain mutual benefits.

We have learnt that the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), which is a state run institution, is set to open its office here soon. Would you tell us what priorities are set for JETRO to undertake in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has a size of 90 million people. This means that the country has a huge market potential for Japanese companies. However, until recently, Ethiopia has never been considered as a potential market for Japanese firms. We need to change that attitude and the understanding towards that.

Does that mean that more Japanese investors are going to come to Ethiopia?

Yes. I want to share what we have learnt here. According to state minister Taye, Japanese companies are engaged in many things in the South-East Asian countries like Cambodia. He said that Japanese companies are needed to do more of similar activities in Ethiopia. However, the reason why we didn’t do something  similar like what we did in South East Asian nations includes the geographical distance we have with Ethiopia. For Japan, South-East Asian countries are closer to it. That proximity gives us the opportunity to sense the change in the atmosphere in the region. But Africa is still very far for Japan. When looking at Ethiopia many Japanese people relate the country with the image of the legend any athlete Abebe Bikila. Of course, the great famine of the 1980s is still in the minds of most Japanese. However, these days the recently launched direct flight between Addis Ababa and Tokyo has a lot more to do in our business relations. We first need to show Japanese people what contemporary Ethiopia is all about. The good things about Ethiopia could easily be mentioned with regard to its stability and safety which are very important factors that are helpful to attract more Japanese businesses here.

Recently, the Ethiopian government pledged to allocate an industrial park to Japanese companies. But it’s not clear who would finance the project. Would Japan extend financial resources if the government requests for funding?

The Government of Japan will consider cooperating with Ethiopia for the project if official requests are made from your government's side.

From the diplomatic circle we frequently hear that Ethiopia is likely to face the middle income trap. Should that be a worry to the Ethiopian government? What possible remedial measures might you suggest the government to consider?

There are different analyses whether Ethiopia possibly could face the middle-income-trap situation in the future. But what is more important for the country is to build the capacity it has at the moment. I think improving productivity via Kaizen is a very important undertaking. Ethiopia is one of the countries having a fast population growth. I believe it is okay as long as the country could manage economic growth as well. Even though the country has a vast land, which is three times bigger than Japan, there is a sizeable area which is not suitable for cultivation. I cannot conclude that Ethiopia is going to face the middle-income trap through its journey to become a middle-income country. But I think it is possible for Ethiopia to overcome the trap if it happens.

Japan extends significant amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia. However, we hear that your government is devising mechanisms to restructure or change the ODA contributions to Ethiopia. Could you tell what the plans really are?

Frankly speaking, Japan will not change the ODA policies towards Ethiopia at this point. What we are focusing on – as far as ODA is concerned – includes four major activities. One of the sectors we focus on is the agriculture sector and rural development. We give emphasis to the areas which include the development of the private sector, infrastructural development and education. Hence, we will continue our contributions to Ethiopia in those areas.

Japan is rigorously supporting peace-building missions in Africa and in Ethiopia. Given the fact that Africa is still trapped in political unrest, terrorism and climate change, what will be the role of your country to end such phenomena?

In terms of peace and security concerns in this region, we have dispatched self-defense forces to the Gulf of Aden from our facility in Djibouti. We also have sent our peace-keeping officers to the South Sudan. Therefore, we will keep the trend and continue contributing to the peace and security of the region through such initiatives. We need to remember that we have supported the establishment of the peace-keeping operations center in Ethiopia that facilitates the peace-keeping processes in East Africa. We will make more efforts to build more capacity in this field. I would like to urge all concerned bodies to support our initiatives in the course of mainstreaming the peace keeping operations center here in Ethiopia.

Currently, Kenya is set to host the sixth edition of the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD VI).  It is believed that TICAD – as one of the pioneer initiatives of Japan since the 1990s – was introduced to break the idea of “Afro-Pessimism”. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the narratives of TICAD? In relation to that, can you tell us about the success stories and shortcomings of TICAD?

First, let me start with the positive aspects of TICAD. We don’t believe Japan’s support and aid alone can resolve issues of Africa and solve problems Africa is facing.  However, since 1993 we were able to initiate a mechanism that can bring together all the concerned bodies so that we can do something to support and assist African nations. Back then, we had invited international institutions of the likes of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank Group (WB) and many aid organizations to concert efforts together so that we can support Africa better. Another positive outcome of the TICAD over the years is that we are following up the implementations of our commitments since TICAD IV. After reviewing what the results revealed we will proceed to the next process. I think it is a good behavior to ascertain how we implement our commitments towards Africa. Regarding the shortcomings, we feel that TICAD is not that popularized – even in Africa – to the extent we think it should have. Of course the heads of state know all about TICAD. But it is hard to tell if ordinary citizens are familiar with TICAD. Most people don’t know the fact that Japan was always there assisting Africa since the time the large part of the world had ignored the continent for some reason. The ordinary people in Africa do not know well about the initiative, it not all about Japan and Africa. Rather it harbors other international organizations to take part in the process. I think we should do more public relation activities to make TICAD popular elsewhere in Africa and across the board.

What specific outcomes should we expect from the upcoming TICAD summit, which is to be held in Nairobi soon?

The possible outcome of the upcoming TICAD VI summit that takes place in Kenya depends on the results of TICAD V. Hence, TICAD V is still going on. Reviews of the previous TICAD outcomes are yet to be initiated. Previously, TICAD was held every five years and plans were reviewed based on that time frame. But that is about to change and instead of gathering every five years, heads of state and and other stakeholders will meet every three years. We intend to listen to and understand African countries and what they expect from Japan. Until now we didn’t have any specific plan. But we will announce specific plans by the end of the coming summer. Our major support mainly focuses on what we think will be helpful for the long-term self-sustainability of many African countries. Actually there are countries telling us that they have found TICAD's initiative very helpful for their capacity building and sustainability issues. We intend to do more in Africa with respect to the interests of counties in the continent.