Côte d’Ivoire is gaining more attention in Japan recently; in January 2014 Shinzo Abe became the first prime minister to visit this country, and Côte d’Ivoire also played against Japan at the FIFA World Cup. Toshio Motoya spoke with His Excellency Mr. Jerome Kloh Weya, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in Japan, about the future outlook for Côte d’Ivoire – an agricultural nation that is the world’s top producer of cocoa and is also blessed by natural resources such as oil and natural gas.
Motoya Thank you very much for joining me on Big Talk today. You also recently gave a talk at the Shoheijuku school, which was very easy to understand and inspired a favorable reaction. Today, I’d like to hear you speak more about Côte d’Ivoire.
Weya Thank you for inviting me.
Motoya I held a dialogue with Ambassador Boa Liliane Marie Laure, the previous ambassador, five years ago in September 2009. I learned that political crises have happened in Côte d’Ivoire since its independence, but that it has continually been stable in recent years. Few Japanese people know very much about Côte d’Ivoire, but it seems that many recognize its former name of “Ivory Coast.” Ambassador Boa also told me that ivory was traded back when the Western European powers advanced into the country in the 15th century. I also think that recognition of Côte d’Ivoire has grown in Japan because the Japanese team played against the Ivorian team in the group league at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year. Unfortunately Japan was defeated, but it was a great game.
Weya Yes, it was a good match. In international soccer games, I think the most important thing is not who wins, but to learn about the other team’s country. I believe that match at the World Cup was an important opportunity for Japan and Côte d’Ivoire to take part in international exchange. Furthermore, I would like to point out that “Ivory Coast” is the English translation of the French name “Côte d’Ivoire.” In other words, the “coast of ivory.” Several years ago, the government of my country decided that “Côte d’Ivoire” should not be translated into other languages. This is why we use only “Côte d’Ivoire.” Inhabitants of Côte d’Ivoire are called “Ivorians.”
Motoya I agree. Côte d’Ivoire has a population of roughly 22 million people, one sixth the population of Japan, yet it was able to form a fantastic soccer team. What is your secret for developing such strong players?
Weya There’s no particular secret to it (laughs). The most important thing is that we were able to bring together individual athletes with exceptional skills. Our population is certainly small, but many more people play soccer in Côte d’Ivoire than in Japan, so it’s easier to find the talented players. I think the problem for the Ivorian team is that it remains weak as a group even though the individual athletes are strong.
Motoya Is that so? In January of this year, Shinzo Abe became the first prime minister to visit Côte d’Ivoire. I see this as proof that he believes there is great potential in the Côte d’Ivoire-Japan relationship.
Weya Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Abe met at the TICAD V Conference last year in Yokohama. That led to Prime Minister Abe’s January visit, during which the two leaders re-affirmed the strong bonds between their countries. This is also clearly reflected in the joint declaration issued after the summit meeting. Moreover, the leaders of 11 of the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – which was chaired by President Ouattara – gathered to discuss how to construct the futures of their region with support from Japan. At this meeting, the West African side declared its endorsement of Abe’s “peaceful pacifism” concept.
Motoya That’s wonderful. Looking at the joint declaration, it emphasizes that Japan will provide financial support to Côte d’Ivoire – including assistance totaling 7.7 million dollars – for peace and stability, such as the strengthening of police capabilities. I think this shows Japan’s great expectations targeted at Côte d’Ivoire, which has recovered from political crises and is accomplishing high economic growth.
Weya I think so, too. Our country’s actual economic growth rate has remained at a high level; it was 9.8% in 2012 and 8.7% in 2013, and we predict it will be more than 10% in 2014. The expansion of Japanese corporations into Côte d’Ivoire will serve as one of the major driving forces for economic development. Japan resembles Côte d’Ivoire because both of them faced enormous difficulties and overcame them.
Motoya The joint declaration clearly supports the investment of Japanese corporations in Côte d’Ivoire. When I spoke with the previous ambassador, she said that agriculture – with products such as coffee and cocoa production – has been your country’s key economic development factor until now. It seems that mineral resources are also becoming a major factor of economic development.
Weya Yes. Côte d’Ivoire is known as the world’s top cocoa producer, but in the field of agriculture we also produce coffee, cashew nuts, natural rubber, and palm oil. Furthermore, in recent years our output of mineral resources – such as oil, natural gas, gold, copper, diamonds, iron, uranium, bauxite, and cobalt – is also increasing. We have devoted efforts to attracting the funding needed to mine these undeveloped mineral resources. Japanese corporations have an eye on these resources and are expanding into Côte d’Ivoire.
Motoya So the principal industry is moving from agriculture to mining? Japan imports its energy, and – considering the risky nature of its great dependence on the Middle East for oil – is attempting to increase the number of places from where it will import energy. If Côte d’Ivoire were to increase its exports of oil and natural gas, Japan could steadily import these resources. Japan’s resource discovery and mining technologies are extremely advanced, so I am certain that they can be of use in Côte d’Ivoire.
Weya More than a switch, we actually hope to grow both agriculture and mining. We also want to increase our exports of coffee and cocoa.
Motoya That would be the best scenario. What kinds of Japanese corporations have already invested in Côte d’Ivoire?
Weya Japanese companies like Ajinomoto Co., Ltd.; Itochu Corporation; and Mitsubishi Corporation are already in Côte d’Ivoire, and some others like Mitsui & Co are willing to do the same.
Motoya I didn’t know that.
Weya I recently had the opportunity to speak with a manager from Mitsui & Co for this purpose. I have also met with Mr. Norihiko Ishiguro, vice-minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, in order to strengthen the economic ties between Côte d’Ivoire and Japan. I asked for continual assistance in the realms of health, welfare, education, etc. Many corporations from Japan and other foreign countries have entered Côte d’Ivoire, but our infrastructure is still lacking. We especially require hotels, so I hope you will share your hotel management expertise with us.
Motoya I definitely hope for that opportunity!
Weya Since Côte d’Ivoire became independent from France in 1960, it has looked to Japan as a model for state-building. Côte d’Ivoire promptly established diplomatic relations with Japan after independence, and the first Japanese ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire was appointed in 1966. Then-President Félix Houphouët-Boigny provided a site in the best residential district in Abidjan – Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city – as the official residence of the Japanese ambassador. The close relationship between Japan and Côte d’Ivoire has a history of more than 50 years.
Motoya The previous ambassador told me a similar story. The economic growth from 1960 to 1970 was called the “miracle of Côte d’Ivoire.”
Weya Yes. But after the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, Côte d’Ivoire faced a political crisis from 1999 to 2010. However, the current President Ouattara took office in 2010, and stability was finally regained, then Côte d’Ivoire became able to carry out economic restoration.
Motoya The circumstances are stable, and growth is being accomplished, so human exchange is the next important thing. People are most concerned about the climate when they visit somewhere to sightsee. Can you tell us about Côte d’Ivoire?
Weya Our average temperature is of course high, but Côte d’Ivoire is tempered by sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, passing across the 550 kilometers of fine sand beaches in the south. In particular, there’s no need to worry about illness. I hope you will visit Côte d’Ivoire soon! My Japanese secretary also hadn’t been to Côte d’Ivoire when she began working at the embassy. She had the chance to go there afterwards, and said it was entirely different from what she had been picturing.
Motoya I have been to 78 countries across the world, but I haven’t yet visited Côte d’Ivoire. I hope to make time to go soon. I heard that the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro (the administrative capital) is the largest basilica in the world. When was it completed?
Weya In 1989. Houphouët-Boigny was the president when Côte d’Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960. He maintained this position for another 33 years and built the basilica using his own money. Abidjan, the economic capital, is a metropolis that is called “Little Paris,” in comparison with the French capital, or the “Pearl of the lagoons.” There, visitors can enjoy West African gourmet foods and shopping.
Motoya I definitely want to visit those two towns. How do you get to Côte d’Ivoire from Japan?
Weya The easiest way is via Paris, France. You can also fly Emirates via Dubai.
Motoya I’d like to hear a bit more about your experience. What is your background?
Weya I originally majored in law and studied and worked in Côte d’Ivoire, Rabat, Roma, Geneva, Paris, and other locations. I learned about Japanese history in school, which inspired my interest in Edo Period Japan. I like to visit facilities related to the Edo Period, including samurai and shogun. For example, when I travelled to Nagoya, I visited the Tokugawa Art Museum.
Motoya You came to Japan two years and 10 months ago. What is your impression of Japan?
Weya I think Japan is a country with excellent public order. Trains and other facilities always run on time, and people always keep their promises. It’s wonderful to be able to accomplish everything according to plan.
Motoya I agree entirely.
Motoya There are many people like you who evaluate Japan highly, yet Japan is criticized by South Korea and China. Across the world, it seems that neighboring countries always have bad relationships… Regarding the comfort women issue in particular, South Korea’s claim that 200,000 women were forcibly transported and subjected to sexual slavery is a total fabrication. Japan is being blamed for this baseless issue, yet it hasn’t been able to make clear objections, which is why people across the world believe what South Korea says. I’m sure you’ve met many Japanese people since you came here. Do you think South Korea is correct in its claims about the comfort women?
Weya I’ve read many books on this issue since I came to Japan. Frankly speaking, I feel that both sides have different points of view.
Motoya But there is no proof behind what South Korea says. Conversely, even though there is proof that can be used to refute these claims, South Korea keeps insisting on what it believes. I hope you will continue reading a wide range of documents and learn about the truth behind the comfort women story. Of course both sides make valid points, but in the end I hope you will see there is no valid proof. Even though Japan is providing official development assistance (ODA) across the world, it is still being exposed to these baseless criticisms. That’s why I carry out interviews of this sort, and I ask for your understanding.
Weya I know the mass media rarely conveys the truth. I would like for the parties to use dialogue to reconcile their points of view. I want to learn more about it.
Motoya I definitely hope you will read my dialogue with Tony Marano, nicknamed “Texas Daddy,” in the July issue of Apple Town. An English translation is available as well. It mentions written evidence from the questioning of Korean comfort women who were captured by the U.S. Armed Forces in 1944, which Marano obtained from the American National Archives in Washington, DC and posted on his website. This document suggests that these women were simple wartime prostitutes, not slaves. Japan should use this evidence to advocate for the truth, but it hasn’t done so up until now.
Weya I think that dialogue is the best way to resolve the problems. I think you are conducting very important activities by speaking with people.
Motoya Thank you. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Weya I think Japan’s strength is the way it mixes the old and new in terms of culture and customs alike. If the young people of today who are well versed in Japan also learn about its history and traditional culture, Japan will certainly become a stronger, more appealing country.
Motoya I agree. Japan is a country that is worthy of pride, yet Japanese people have no self-confidence because they aren’t taught these things. But if they learned about true history and felt a greater sense of pride, I think the country could be improved.
Weya I agree entirely, and I hope you will come to Côte d’Ivoire very soon!
Motoya I understand. Thank you for joining me today.
Jerome Kloh Weya
Joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1981. After working in positions including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and overseas Embassies (such as Morocco, Geneva, and Vienna), Weya was chief of staff to different Ministers of Foreign Affairs. He took up his current position in 2011, and is also the Ambassador to Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore.