France and Japan in Africa: Expanding Strategic Development Cooperation

Written by | Friday, October 6th, 2017

Both European Union countries and Japan have the common goal of promoting sustainable development on the African continent through aid, investment, security cooperation and good governance. Among the EU economies, France has emerged as the leader of Europe’s development pursuits in Africa. As two important players in Africa, Japan and France work together to enhance their bilateral cooperation in this particular area.

Both countries have been long-term aid donors in Africa, as the continent is their priority for many reasons. About half of all the activities supervised by the French Development Agency (AFD) are located in Africa and this regional specialization is likely to stay in the future as well. However, what has changed is the particular focus within the continent – France is no longer specializing in the French-speaking African countries only. At the moment, Kenya is the number one recipient of French development aid on the continent. Paris approach to the continent has been revamped this year in favor of a more systematic approach that doesn’t discern between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in terms of administration but calls for tailored solutions for local situations.

In contrast, most of Japan’s work in development focuses on Asia and only 15% of its development aid goes to Africa. Yet, Tokyo is taking advantage of the lessons and experiences learned when dealing with conflict-affected and fragile Asian states such as Cambodia to develop its activities in Africa. Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is a key player that has claimed many successes including massive job creation and inclusive growth throughout Asia and that is extending its work to Africa.

France and Japan share some similar approaches to development assistance. For example, for both countries, Africa is a priority for historical reasons. They both focus on promoting growth and employment for local populations by ensuring infrastructure development and local skills training. This alignment obviously reflects an obvious political basis on which to coordinate mutual activities in Africa and at the same time differentiates both countries from the newer development actors such as China.

JICA and the AFD have begun working together on a number of projects. Their flagship pilot project in Abidjan aims to add to the municipality’s development as a “smart city”. The two parts of the project are funded by France and Japan side by side – the AFD focuses on sanitation and water while the JICA works on roads and transportation. Beyond this project, synergies can also be found in working on the economic development of the Mombasa area in Kenya where the AFD is providing basic supplies such as water and the JICA is developing a Special Economic Zone.

Promising areas of cooperation between both sides are peace-building operations and institution building where especially Japan is very active by dedicating funds to promote training and capacity-building across the continent. France has already an extensive experience in conducting these kinds of missions and is now working to build a more systematic approach to ensuring a better efficiency. For all these reasons, France-Japan collaboration in development is set to grow in the coming years. Overcoming red tape and long decision-making process should allow for an acceleration and expansion of what is already a fruitful cooperation.

‘France and Japan in Africa: A Promising Partnership’ – Editorial by Ce?line Pajon –

Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri).

(The Editorial can be downloaded here)

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