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Dinner-debate: Japan-Africa relations: what are they ?

28 août 2014

The mutual attractiveness between Asia and Africa is clearly demonstrated by World Bank figures and other studies. It had been eight years since a Japanese Prime Minister had « set foot » in Africa. This makes Shinzo Abe‘s January visit to Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Ethiopia historic. Tokyo has only 32 diplomatic representations on the continent, compared to 49 in Beijing. Trade between China and Africa is around $130 billion, compared to just $25 billion for Japan-Africa trade. In the face of such dynamism, which brings about structural changes, a common reflection is necessary to prevent further development. The question that remains for us today is: what really emerges before our eyes? What development is involved beyond economic, social, political, international, intercultural, interreligious performances?

The IAM has a working policy in a wide variety of areas, including issues related to Africa-Asia relations to better acquire a relevant and operational understanding of Africa today and to understand the complexity and dynamics of Africa, both on issues related to economic emergence and on interactions between cultures. This is why we feel it is necessary to start a reflection here on new developments, particularly deep partnerships with Asia.

The continent is in fact experiencing a serious lack of skills in areas crucial to achieving the objective of structural transformation. The fact that a significant number of engineers and graduates of science faculties are unemployed in Africa highlights the different aspects (including the slow pace of the structural transformation process) of the mismatch between demand and supply of skills on the continent.

The proliferation of higher education institutions and think tanks dedicated to development issues in Africa since 1950 has not helped to reduce the skills gap on the continent. Nor has it improved labour force access to employment. The large proportion of university graduates are graduates in the humanities and social sciences, while those who enrol in science, technology, engineering and mathematics represent less than 25% of the students enrolled. Gross domestic expenditure on research and development remains very low in Africa. They are mainly carried out by the public sector for the benefit of agriculture and, in general, very little attention is paid to industrial research institutes. Unfortunately, these public research institutions are often insufficiently developed, lack adequate resources, and have few links with the private sector.

Tokyo now prefers to focus on stable and high-growth countries such as Senegal, Tanzania or Ghana. What partnership to invest in education, research and development and the creation of technical training institutes closely linked to industry? Africa’s deficit in this area is a serious handicap for the development of its resources. Exchanges of experience and transfer of technology and know-how must be given a prominent place in the partnership with America. The partnership could include training and scholarship programmes, interactions between higher education, vocational training and research institutions, as well as support for the creation of centres of excellence and the Pan-African University.

Without losing sight of the fact that Africa intends to transform itself in an era of rapid technological change and innovation on a global scale, thus posing the question from a perspective that may seem utilitarian in no way denies the cultural, identity and profound dimension that the partnership with Japanese universities has.

  • How to build sustainable links supported by innovative research and training programmes and forms of interdisciplinary partnerships in the sciences and social sciences?
  • How can Africa develop its system of intra-African and international student and teacher mobility?
  • How can the articulation between secondary and higher education be rethought in the light of the Asian experience?
  • How can we strengthen the friendship between the Asian people and the people of Africa and deepen the strategic global partnership between the two partners?
  • How to finance a research project on commodity trade in collaboration with Japanese universities and six African Catholic universities?

All these questions were discussed during the rich discussions of this dinner-debate.

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28 août 2014
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