At the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Nairobi, Kenya, August 2016.
Thomas Mukoya / REUTERS

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has been looking to boost its global standing. In that effort, the country’s relationships with African states have become key. The most recent signs of Tokyo’s pivot to the continent came in late August, when Abe travelled to Kenya to attend the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a meeting convened by Japan, 54 African states, and several international organizations. At the conference, Abe pledged more than $30 billion in Japanese investment to infrastructure projects across the continent over the next three years—the largest such commitment in TICAD’s history.

Abe’s investment pledge reflected a broader shift in Japan’s policy in Africa: from aid to trade and from government to the private sector. Last month’s TICAD was not short of symbolism to this effect. The meeting was the first of its kind held in Africa instead of in

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