Second group among 1,000 African students off to Japan

Hundreds of African students are leaving for Japan this year, the second group to join the African Business Education Initiative for Youth, a five-year plan to provide 1,000 young Africans with opportunities to study for masters degrees at top universities and do internships at leading Japanese companies.

In the past, Japan has offered strategic training opportunities to other Asian countries, but this is the first such support for Africa.

Some 45 Kenyans are among the new group of African students, and on 21 August they attended a colourful sending-off ceremony at the Japanese embassy in the capital Nairobi.

Kenyan and Japanese officials praised the initiative as a way to boost economic development and cooperation between the two countries. “I am happy to see that students of this programme have already become bridges between Kenya and Japan for reinforcing our relations and collaboration on business,” said Tatsushi Terada, Japan’s ambassador to Kenya.

The initiative

The African Business Education Initiative for Youth, or ABE Initiative, was launched by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development – TICAD V – held in Yokohama in June 2013.

The beneficiaries are undertaking masters studies in selected areas including public health, economics, agriculture and energy, on full scholarships at universities across Japan. The young leaders will also work as interns at Japanese firms to enable them to develop effective skills and knowledge in fields relevant for the development of industries in Africa.

In March this year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Japan and held talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The East African nation, with its population of 40 million, is set to host the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development next year.

Officials argue that there is a need for human resource development in Africa’s private and public sectors, and to cultivate a strong network between the continent and Japan. According to Japanese officials, the specialised knowledge and internship experiences the students will receive will enhance their ability as leaders and strengthen Africa-Japan relations.

Efforts are also being made to increase the number of Africans visiting Japan, and to raise awareness of the efficiency of Japanese technologies and business systems.

Gloria Ndekei, a representative of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, said education programmes in Kenya had long been supply-driven rather than market-driven, “leading to gaps in the job market”. The private sector stood to benefit greatly from graduates of the ABE Initiative.

“We have received good reports from the first batch of participants currently undertaking their studies in Japan,” said a statement from the Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA, which is implementing the programme within the ABE Initiative framework.

Hideo Eguchi, JICA chief representative to Kenya, said the ABE Initiative was the most ambitious long-term training programme that has ever been offered to Africa.

“We now have 100 Kenyan leaders who are anticipated to make a huge impact upon their return to Kenya with their knowledge and experiences from Japan,” Eguchi added.

The students

Kenya has so far taken the lion’s share of students with a total of 100 participants in two years.

Last year eight African countries sent some 150 students to Japan, with 55 Kenyans accepted into the initiative. Other candidates included 30 Tanzanians, 24 Ethiopians, 18 Mozambicans, 14 South Africans, 10 Rwandans, five Sudanese and three Ivorians.

This year several other African countries have also sent participants to the ABE Initiative including Nigeria, Ghana and the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago with a population of some 90,000 people.

George Akoko (27), a student at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, was among the first group of students in the ABE Initiative. “I’m enjoying it,” he said, adding that he is working on a research project focusing on Kenya’s Mwea Irrigation Scheme.

“I think studying in Japan has enabled me acquire new skills and knowledge, which I can use to help my communities,” he told University World News.

Robina Mwenesi (33), a Kenyan economist with the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, was among those departing this month for a two-year masters programme at Ritsumeikan University.

“Japanese universities are rated among the best in the world and I look forward to the experience,” said the mother of two.

Engineer Zachariah Magondu (34) said he had learned about the initiative via a government memo. He is to study for a masters in mechanical engineering at Tottori University.

Asked why he preferred to further his education abroad rather than locally he quipped: “I would like to find the gaps, to learn and understand the systems in other countries, especially in developed nations such as Japan.”

* Applications for the next intake are open until 31 October 2015. To be eligible, among other requirements applicants must be citizens of one of Africa’s 54 countries, between the ages of 22 and 39 years, and a holder of a bachelor degree.