The Importance of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development

Written by William Lucht – September 5, 2022

In Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, stands Tunisian President. Kais Saied and Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi side by side at the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8), the first to be held since the start of the dynamistic COVID-19 pandemic. The conference, which has aligned developmental interests from Japan and African nations, resulted in a pledge by Tokyo to contribute $30 billion in developmental aid over the course of three years. This comes at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine has strangled global supplies of hydrocarbons and international grain shipments. Tokyo has stated a desire to increase ties with the African continent amidst these threats through future financial investments.  

Financial pledges by the Japanese government in Africa may have dual purpose and not simply be magnanimous. As the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) increases its influence in the region, it poses a continued onerous security risk for a western international audience. Prior to the assassination of the former Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe, Abe warned Africa of accruing excessive debt from China as their gaming of current international circumstance concerning tech transfer has led African countries into murky waters, specifically Algeria and Egypt with Huawei localization. Tokyo’s $30 billion pledge to the African continent may prove to be an adroit economic policy move. It could also lead to nothing more than diplomatic carrots in a much larger continental bucket if Tokyo does not situate itself in a long-game strategy to combat Chinese economic expansion into Africa.   

Complicating the conference’s overarching continental goals are regional North African grievances between Morocco and Tunisia. Tunisia, which has sustained consistent and growing criticism from the international community and domestic civil society groups surrounding its newest constitution, has re-called its Moroccan ambassador. Morocco has responded in similar fashion by re-calling its ambassador as well. This action, triggered by President. Saied’s invitation to the Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to the (TICAD8), a group seeking independence from within Western Sahara, has created contemporary problems. The invitation creates a novel front of tension in the ongoing issue which already involves Spain, Germany, Algeria, which is Polisario’s main backer, and now Tunisia. Morocco sees Western Sahara as sovereign territory and stated the invitation of Brahim was, “hostile and prejudicial to the fraternal relations that the two countries have always maintained.”

In 2020, the U.S. officially recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara for closer relations between Morocco and Israel. Spain recently dropped a stance of neutrality over Western Sahara, which is a former Spanish colony, laying precedence for further Moroccan legitimacy over territorial claims. President. Saied’s decision, which has led to agitation with a regional ally, may be in response to domestic energy and commodity shortages. Long waiting queues for petrol and limited supplies of goods, in conjunction with civil unrest over retracted democratic gains from the Arab Spring, could be pushing President. Saied into welcoming the Algerian backed Polisario, the same Algeria which Tunisia intimately relies on for energy.

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