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October 17, 2018

How Japan differs from the ‘give aid, expect growth’ culture

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Japanese Ambassador Toshitsugu Uesawa during the ground breaking ceremony for Olkaria V Geothermal Power Development Project on  April 28, 2017. /COURTESY
President Uhuru Kenyatta with Japanese Ambassador Toshitsugu Uesawa during the ground breaking ceremony for Olkaria V Geothermal Power Development Project on April 28, 2017. /COURTESY

Zimbabwean environmentalist Allan Savory once said, “We need to manage holistically — embracing all of our science and traditional knowledge — all sources of knowledge. We can do that from the household, to government to international relations.”

And this is probably what the Japanese have done in their diplomatic relations with Kenya and other African states, as far as development assistance is concerned.

Japan recognised Kenya as soon as it gained Independence, and in 1964, the Embassy of Japan in Nairobi was opened. Kenya opened its mission in Osaka in 1979.

These relations have largely been centred on trade, culture, education and development priority areas. And given Kenya is the gateway to East Africa, there has been a lot of interest from the Japanese, and as a result, Kenya hosts one of the largest Japanese communities in Africa.

Nairobi hosts the regional headquarters for Japan's cooperation agencies, among them the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Japan External Trade Organisation and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. In 2014, there were over 50 Japanese companies operating in Kenya.



Japan has been a major financier of Kenya’s key infrastructure projects. These include the upgrading of the Mombasa Port, the Olkaria Geothermal Plant, the Sondu/Miriu Hydropower Plant, the Nairobi-Western Ring Road and the Baringo and Narok towns water supply.

Others are the Mwea Irrigation Development Project, the Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu Power transmission and the Sh20 billion Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga county, of which Japan will find Sh12 billion.

And another project that Japan has helped Kenya develop under Jica is the Programme on Improvement of Infrastructure for Transportation in the Nairobi Metropolitan Area. This aims to develop and improve roads in Nairobi and strengthen road maintenance and management to manage traffic congestion, reduce accidents and solve challenges in regional transportation.

In this regard, Jica in March 2015 handed over the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan 2014-2030 — developed from 2012-14 — to the Nairobi City county, to transform the capital into a world-class city. This involved strengthening of capacity for supervision and operation on road maintenance works through contracting, dualling of the Nairobi-Dagoreti Corner Road and construction of Nairobi missing links. How well the county has implemented the ambitious masterplan is another issue.

In Mombasa, Jica has devised the Improvement of Regional Transport Infrastructure Programme. This aims to develop facilities and functions of Mombasa Port and regional trunk roads, starting from the port, and to streamline the custom procedure to enhance trade in East Africa. The programme includes the Mombasa Port Container Terminal Expansion Project, Mombasa Port Area Road Development Project and the Capacity Building for the Customs Administrations of the Eastern African Region in its Phase 2.



In education, Japan has invested in secondary and higher education through the Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education programme, popularly known as SmasE in secondary schools and scholarships in universities. In February, 33 young Kenyans benefitted from a master’s degree programme at Japan universities under the African Business Education Initiative offered by Jica. It has also upgraded and refurbished the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa in Karen.

Japan has also signed various deals with universities, among them Jkuat, in technical collaboration.

Nairobi hosted the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in August last year, where 73 deals to boost trade between Africa and Japan were signed.

The deals came after Japan’s pledge to commit Sh3 trillion in public and private support for infrastructure, education and healthcare in Africa over the next three years.

President Uhuru Kenyatta pitched Kenya as a lucrative investment destination for Japanese firms during his inaugural visit to Tokyo between March 12-16, 2015. Addressing the Kenya-Japan Business forum that brought together more than 200 Japanese business executives, he urged the companies to consider setting up shop in Nairobi. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reciprocated the visit in August during the Ticad meet, in which about 75 companies are reported to have attended.

Some of the Japanese companies that have presence in Kenya include camera maker Nikon, Toyota Tsusho Corporation, Toridoll Corporation, Canon, Nissin Food Holdings, Lixil Group and Honda Motor.

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