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Why TICAD VI summit was a key step in Kenya’s road to industrialisation

By Toshitsugu Uesawa | March 1st 2018
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 6th TICAD Conference [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

I first came to Kenya as a young diplomat back in 1982. And I returned to serve as Ambassador in May 2016.

With the knowledge that comes from this depth of exposure to a country, I can confidently predict that Kenya will rise to the status of a Newly Industrialised Country.

And when at some point in the future, the history of this achievement is written, I believe that August 2016 will go down as one of the significant milestones in Kenya’s economic transformation.

August 2016 is significant because that was when Nairobi had the honour of hosting the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development – TICAD VI.

It was the first time that the TICAD Summit was held on the African continent, ever since the inaugural summit in 1993. TICAD conferences were previously always held in Japan. And TICAD VI proved to be a historic event, which took relations between Japan and Africa to a new level.

Policy dialogue

The TICAD summit has met regularly to promote high-level policy dialogue involving Japan, African leaders and development partners

In this way then, TICAD serves as an international platform to raise global awareness as well as to ensure continued support for Africa’s development efforts. The TICAD conferences are underpinned by the twin principles of international partnership and African ownership.

TICAD VI was an overwhelming success. It brought together 35 Heads of State from all over Africa. And of course, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was also in attendance.

In total there were over 11,000 accredited participants, who included technocrats from international institutions and from the private sector.

And at the end of it came the Nairobi Declaration, which is a three-year plan to promote structural economic transformation; resilient health care systems; and social stability through shared prosperity.

The Nairobi Declaration outlines areas of engagement such as promoting economic diversification and industrialization; a renewed focus on agriculture; innovation and ICT-led economy; quality infrastructure; and skills development.

The three-year plan also includes collaboration on peacebuilding, cross-border security and preventing violent extremism. Such then are the ambitious targets we have in mind, when we speak of the TICAD VI Nairobi Declaration.

Achieved progress

It is now about 18 months since that declaration was made. And so we thought that the time had come to have a workshop here in Nairobi to review the progress that has been achieved, as well as to see how best to align the TICAD VI targets to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four” development priorities.

To illustrate my point, let me give one example of how Japan-Kenya development works:

I explained in an op-ed a few years ago, that while Kenya is one of the world’s leading producers of geothermal power, Japan is proud that this success has come in collaboration with Japanese companies that supply most of the turbines.

One remarkable fact is that Olkaria 1 unit 1-3 started operating 36 years ago and is still generating power on the same set of Japanese turbines. This is because when Japan supplied those turbines to Kenya, we gave the very best that we had.

That is the kind of win-win outcome that Japan always aims for in its dealings with African nations.

But inexpensive geothermal energy is not an end in itself. It should be a catalyst for industrialization, and job creation. For what Kenya needs is to create jobs for its hundreds of thousands of youth who every year graduate from various levels of tertiary education.

The ongoing Special Economic Zone project, and its associated Mombasa Port expansion project, both supported by Japan, are also key initiatives in job creation.

The SEZ concept offers the perfect combination of facilities to attract investment, both foreign and local, to encourage manufacturing industries, which will create many new jobs for Kenyans.

My embassy has already been facilitating visits by trade missions from all over the world who hope to take advantage of the opportunities that the SEZ project will provide.

And I can assure you that the day will soon come when you will see a world-class SEZ in Mombasa, supported by a modern port, beautiful access roads, and other quality infrastructure.

It will embody the best and the most advanced of Japanese technology – just as the Olkaria geothermal plant did in its time.

Mr Toshitsugu is the Ambassador of Japan to Kenya

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