Historicising Japan-Africa relations

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Boga Thura Manatsha


This article was motivated by the rising influence of Japan in Africa’s development affairs. Most studies on Japan-Africa relations, which flourished after Japan introduced the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 1993, do not adequately historicise the relations between the two. With few exceptions, they uncritically treat Japan as a new or late comer in Africa compared to other global powers. In contrast, this article argues that the Japanese contact with Africa and Africans probably predates the accidental landing of the Portuguese traders on the Japanese shores in 1542/43. Importantly, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Japanese government, politicians and intellectuals started showing great interest in Africa. During the Scramble for Africa by European powers, influential Japanese intellectuals encouraged their government to take part too, but this advice was not heeded. The Japanese also showed keen interest in Africa during the British-Zulu war of 1879, the South African war of 1899, the Italo-Ethiopian conflicts of 1895/96 and 1935/36, and at the Bandung Conference in 1955. Like the Chinese, the Japanese have an age-old interest in Africa.

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