The Chinese may be right in their skepticism of Japanese ability to fulfill its promise to invest $5 trillion in Africa. The much hyped Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) conference attended by many African heads of state and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Nairobi ended quietly compared with the pomp that characterized the opening ceremony.

A Chinese statement after the meeting expressed doubts that Japan was sincere with its pledges. “There is little information on how the money is to be repaid or the terms of the agreements,” the Chinese said.

Japan had indicated that it would disburse the money mostly through development agencies with a follow up to ensure it was used for the purpose given.

“The secret recipe for ever-lasting vibrancy of this relationship is sincerity, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” the Chinese said.

China Trade with Africa

China is now Africa’s largest trading partner, creating uneasiness with Japan which urgently needs free access to Africa’s vast resources. In Kenya where China has quickly climbed to the top as the largest trading partner, the populous Asian county has invested Sh600 billion, twice the value in 2013. And in Africa as a continent, China is involved in 240 infrastructure projects worth Sh5.7 trillion.

China has 14 per cent trade with Africa while Japan has just 1 per cent. China’s trade with Africa is worth USD220 billion; about ten times that of Japan.

Kenya is the largest beneficiary of the Japanese Official Development Assistance in Africa, getting Sh450 billion since 2012. Kenya buys goods worth $364 million (Sh36.4 billion) while the Japanese buy Kenyan goods worth a miserly $28 million (Sh2.8 billion).

Japan, like the West, ties its development aid to good governance issues. And Abe tried to capitalize on this stating that “Japan is a country that ardently hopes to resolve the issues facing Africa and it will not let up in its efforts”. It is also a reason why the Japanese aid is passed mostly through the civil society,

China on the other hand has been criticized for encouraging bad governance and reemergence of dictators in Africa by giving unconditional aid. Example often cited is that of Libya where China is accused of assisting Muammar Gaddafi to keep an unpopular government in power. Gaddafi was violently overthrown and murdered in an uprising engineered by the West.

With Chinese assistance, the African continent is witnessing the growth of governments that are less responsive to the needs of their citizens.

But at the Ticad meeting China defended its policy as that of non-interference. “China’s way of doing things remains that of non-interference,” China said.

“We hope other partners will also listen carefully to Africa’s voice and fully respect Africa’s will,” he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta told participants there was a worrying trend for the developed world to turn inwards, even after benefiting from open trade before.

“Indeed, if we look back, the wealthiest countries today with very few exceptions got rich by trading with others. The critical ingredient of prosperity in the last century has been free and fair trade, infrastructure integration of regions, educated citizens who enjoy economic liberty and responsible governments,” he said. “Yet there is now a tendency among many countries to turn towards more isolationist or grossly unfair positions on trade.”