This year, for the first time since its launch in 1993, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) will be held in Africa. Directors chose Nairobi, Kenya, as a symbol of the unique relationship between the two nations.
Japan’s involvement in Kenya started in 1903, and trade between the two countries expanded throughout the 20th century. A Japanese embassy in Kenya was established just six months after Kenya gained independence in 1963.
The cornerstone of the two countries’ relationship has always been trade. Japan has long been an importer of Kenya’s agricultural goods like tea and tobacco. Kenya, in more recent years, has begun importing cars, machinery and manufactured goods from Japan. In 2013, Kenya exported $46 million to Japan and imported $911 million.
Despite both the Kenyan and Japanese governments agreeing that the relationship has been mutually beneficial, the trade gap between the two nations has long favored Japan, causing distress for some Kenyan businessmen. As a result, the Japanese government has steadily increased its aid to Kenya and other African nations.
As of 2014, Japan had invested $14 billion in Africa, with Kenya receiving the most aid. Japan has funded over 300 development projects in Kenya in the past 27 years, with no signs of slowing down. Since 2012, the Japanese prime minister has funded Kenyan development projects totaling $28 million.
However, the relationship between Japan and Kenya extends beyond their economies. Japan has a large cultural influence in Kenya, which hosts Japanese film festivals and traditional Japanese art. The largest population of Japanese nationals in Africa resides in Kenya, and the largest population of foreign athletes in Japan is Kenyan.
Political relations between the countries are also unique in sub-Saharan Africa, with many signs of good faith and cordiality between the two nations. Kenya donated $1 million to Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. Several prime ministers and members of the Japanese royal family have traveled to Kenya recently, with the crown prince visiting in 2010. Likewise, the Kenyan president and countless ministers visit Japan each year.
In his opening address at the TICAD Summit, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed his hope for the collective futures of Africa, Japan and Kenya.
“We look forward to…a new strengthening of the ties not just between Africa and Japan, but also between African nations themselves,” said Kenyatta. “For Africa is rising, ladies and gentlemen.”
– John English