Professor Sadaharu Kataoka in the Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University earned a PhD in Political Science at the Universite de Paris I, and has conducted a great deal of research on Africa and Europe as a scholar of political science and international relations theory. Toshio Motoya spoke with Kataoka, who is also an expert in national security, about African history (including the slave trade and independence from colonial rule), Japanese national security issues, and other topics.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. Your field of expertise is Africa, is that correct?
(K) Thank you for having me. Yes, that’s right. My research is focused on Africa, but I also study Africa’s relations with France, Europe, the United States, and other advanced nations. European security is another of my research topics.
(M) To start out, I hope you will share some information about Africa with us today. My impression is that northern and southern Africa are quite different.
(K) Africa is composed of 54 countries today. The total is 55 if you include Western Sahara, which is recognized by the African Union but is not diplomatically recognized by Japan. It is true that the established thinking divides Africa into North Africa, which includes Egypt, and Sub-Saharan Africa, the region south of the Sahara Desert. The border between these two areas is the vast Sahara Desert. North Africa has seven states counting Western Sahara, while Sub-Saharan Africa has 48 states. In recent years some have criticized this as an antiquated concept, and there is a debate about whether we should consider Africa as a single continent. However, the people living in these two areas are greatly different. Although it is a somewhat simplified categorization, North Africa is home to many Arab Muslims, while Black people reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes it is referred to using the colonial name “Black Africa.” Countries like Chad and Sudan span both of these regions, with northern areas influenced by the Arab world and Black cultural spheres in the south.
(M) Many Black Africans were exported to the American continent. I’ve heard that Black kings of African countries became rich by actively cooperating with the slave trade.
(K) Yes, at first European nations had friendly relationships with African kings. Many Black Africans were brought to the Americas as slaves from the 16th to 19th century. There are various theories about their number, which has yet to be firmly established, but the total is thought to be more than 20 million. Slave traders included Portuguese people as well as Arabs from Northern Africa. Some Blacks cooperated as well. Traders made deals with kings, brought enslaved people to ports, and transported them to the Americas on ships. This is referred to as the “transatlantic slave trade” or “triangular trade.” Many Black people from inland areas perished before they arrived at ports on Africa’s west coast. Many more died on slave ship voyages, so only around one third the original number actually arrived in the Americas. In my opinion, that alone is a reason to regard the slave trade as the worst stain on human history. It was a horrible atrocity, a brutal criminal act.
(M) They didn’t believe Black people were human beings.
(K) Exactly. It was a historical crime. The remaining one third of enslaved people who survived were thought to be extremely strong. Black slaves were brought to the Americas to work on vast plantations. At first indigenous peoples of the Americas were used for this purpose, but they were not suited to harsh farm work, and many died of causes such as illnesses brought from Europe. The Native Americans of North America tenaciously resisted enslavement. Strong, hardworking, submissive Black slaves were highly prized as farm workers.
(M) So that’s why so many Blacks were transported to the U.S. Agriculture would have been impossible without Black slavery. It was so horrible.
(K) The Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates the deep-rooted prejudice against Black people that remains. Some white people still long for the era of Black slavery. In the U.S., the system of legal discrimination lasted until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination.
(M) I’ve heard that some Japanese people are treated as “honorary whites” because they are seen as useful, while others are the subjects of anti-Asian prejudice. Looking at Africa, Apartheid lasted until the 1990s in South Africa.
(K) Today Apartheid has ended, and Black people are treated favorably according to the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) program. Depending on the size of a company, it is legally required to have a certain percentage of shares held by Black people and to appoint Black managers. This is why some Black people who are employed as executives or hold stock do not do any work. Some people criticize this program for merely encouraging Blacks to be lazy.
(M) I assume this program exists because otherwise Black people would not be able to participate in society. However, it sounds like it could lead to greater discord between Blacks and whites.
(M) Maybe Japan’s location in the Far East is why it was never colonized, and why slaves were not exported from Japan.
(K) It’s said the Portuguese enslaved tens of thousands of Japanese people and transported them overseas in the era of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. When Hideyoshi learned about this, he declared a ban on Christianity and prohibited the buying and selling of Japanese slaves.
(M) The many Christian missionaries in Japan were a strategic vanguard sent by the major Western European powers, who were aiming to colonize Japan. I think Hideyoshi saw through this, which is why he released his proclamation. Back then Japanese society was governed by a group of samurai warriors. Strong-spirited rulers were ready to don armor and fight when the necessity arose. I think that’s another thing that dampened the Western European enthusiasm to colonize Japan. In contrast, were Africans unused to warfare?
(K) There are no tales of Africans directly fighting with major Western European powers during the era of the slave trade. However, enslaved people did carry out uprisings. The Western European powers switched to a different stance in the 19th century. They had previously carried out the slave trade in cooperation with African kings, but their attitude changed completely when slavery was abolished. They cut ties with these kings and utilized traditional tribal systems to skillfully colonize Africa. Of course Africans put up fierce resistance, and there are examples like the Battle of Adwa, when Italy was defeated in Ethiopia. Major European powers turned African countries into colonies and protectorates, excluding Liberia and Ethiopia. Ethiopia was occupied by Benito Mussolini before World War II. “Americo-Liberians” (emancipated American slaves) became the predominant ethnic group in Liberia. They controlled the native people, which was effectively a different type of colonial rule.
(M) Was Africa divided and conquered, or ruled indirectly?
(K) Put simply, France used direct rule and the United Kingdom used indirect rule. However, the Western European powers actually employed varied political methods in different areas. Many white people also settled in Africa, although this varies by area as well.
(M) Didn’t many white people immigrate to Africa for gold and diamonds?
(K) Their advance into Africa was greatly influenced by factors such as the discovery of gold and diamonds, as well as the opening of the Suez Canal. This tendency became more pronounced at the start of the 19th century. Gold and diamonds are still mined in Africa today. There tend to be more post-independence issues in countries with many white settlers. Many people died during the independence movements in Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa, Congo, etc.
(M) White Africans must have been opposed to independence from the suzerain state because they wanted to continue their domination.
(K) That’s right. There were many white settlers in Algeria. The Algerian War of Independence from France took place from 1954 to 1962. The tumult was so great that it led to the collapse of the French government.
(M) You studied at a French university. Does that mean you know the most about the relationship between France and Africa?
(K) Yes, my main research themes included French foreign and colonial relations. I studied other topics as well because I did not want an overly microscopic view focused only on French-African relations. Studying a variety of things revealed that values and interpretations related to historical events vary widely by country. For instance, the English- and French-language Wikipedia pages about World War I and World War II have entirely different content. I think this is because the people writing these texts have different nationalities, educations, values, and ideologies. Information about World War II written by Russian people is nothing like the history we know.
(M) Did you study Africa at the university in France?
(K) My primary focuses at first were actually French nuclear strategy and European security.
(M) Among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, the European nations with their own nuclear weapons are the UK and France.
(K) Charles de Gaulle ordered France to establish its atomic commission at an early stage in 1945, and it studied the use of atomic power. Its full-scale entry into the nuclear era came in 1956 with the Suez Crisis, and France carried out a successful nuclear test in 1960 under the de Gaulle administration.
(M) France and Germany are traditionally antagonistic. France, a victorious country in World War II, has the superior position in some ways due to its nuclear weapons.
(K) That’s certainly a big factor. The Greens, a green political party in Germany, has been powerful for many years and today has an approval rating of 20%. Germany can’t proactively use atomic power, and it has given up on nuclear power generation, instead importing electric power produced at French nuclear power plants.
(M) I don’t think nuclear power can be avoided if cutting greenhouse gas emissions is an aim.
(K) Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is concerned about nuclear waste. France is top in the world for its technical ability to deal with nuclear waste. I think we should utilize nuclear power while resolving each issue.
(M) I agree.
(K) When I was in graduate school in France, I was told to do my PhD thesis on the theme of Japan and nuclear weapons. I did do some research, but it would have been difficult to actually write that paper. During a German-language course, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ryohei Murata (the former Japanese ambassador to the U.S. and Germany) stated that Japan had explored the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons in the 1960s…
(M) The victorious nations of World War II did not allow the defeated Japan or Germany to possess nuclear weapons.
(K) Japan began by ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and declaring that it would not possess any nuclear weapons. If Japan stated its will to obtain these weapons, Donald Trump, the previous American president, might not have objected. However, I think President Joe Biden would be strongly opposed, despite his confrontational stance against China.
(M) Because China is expanding its military strength, I believe Japan should discuss methods for standing against China to maintain a balance of power, including nuclear weapons. A country must fundamentally protect itself. If we obtain peace of mind from the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, we will be eternally dependent on the U.S. It’s also not a guarantee that the U.S. will always protect Japan.
(K) I think we rely too heavily on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, just like when Japan was overly dependent on the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in the second half of the Meiji Period. It seems like we are negligent based on the sense of security conferred by our alliances with Anglo-Saxons.
(M) That may be true. Japan should have a stance of obtaining what is necessary, considering the fact that China is our neighbor. But I think many people inside Japan would be fiercely opposed to this.
(K) That’s certainly true.
(M) Small, efficient nuclear power plants are being developed. I think a good precaution would be using small generators to power individual regions, rather than large generators that cause major damage when an accident occurs. For example, maybe we could operate power plants that float on the water and could be sunk in the event of an emergency.
(K) I do think Japan has become overly cautious about nuclear power since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The government has finally decided to release processed contaminated water into the ocean. Scientifically, this will have absolutely no impacts on the environment. Some people benefit from the opposition movement, which is why I think this decision was so tardy.
(M) They can earn huge amounts of compensation by putting up a fuss.
(K) Japan should work to strengthen its national security, including nuclear power and nuclear armament. It’s okay to do this at a slow pace, taking three steps forward, then two steps back.
(M) I wonder if Japan has such an inherent dislike of nuclear power because of the atomic bomb attacks at the end of World War II.
(K) The atomic bombs were developed to defeat Nazi Germany, but the Allies won in Europe without using them. I think that’s why the U.S. ended up dropping the bombs on Japan.
(M) It’s thought the U.S. carried out its nuclear program at such a fast speed because it believed Germany was also developing nuclear weapons.
(K) Germany definitely did have advanced technologies, and it was developing powerful weapons like battleships and fighter aircraft. However, it abandoned nuclear weapon development midway through. Towards the end of the war, Germany was considerably exhausted because the UK was not capitulating, and because Germany was engaged in a fierce battle with the Soviet Union. The Allies finally won when the U.S. joined the fight.
(M) I think Germany had astounding technologies. It developed the V-2 ballistic missile, which it used to attack the UK.
(K) Konrad Adenauer was West Germany’s first postwar chancellor. Records say he continually explored the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons during his term, although he did not accomplish this.
(M) I think the Western European countries must have been strongly opposed to Germany, which caused two great wars in the 20th century, having nuclear weapons. It seems like Germany was not allowed to have these weapons because it was defeated, and France was allowed to have them because it was one of the victorious countries. However, I also feel that nuclear weapons are the source of a nation’s strength. Since the U.S. is against Japan having nuclear weapons, I think we should conclude a nuclear sharing agreement for “renting” nuclear weapons, like America’s arrangement with four NATO countries.
(K) I agree. “United Nations” in Japanese is “kokusai rengo” (which means “international alliance”). However, this name truly signifies the “rengo-koku” (Allied nations). Franklin D. Roosevelt was fond of the name “United Nations.” It’s peculiar that Japan respects and reveres the UN, an alliance of the victorious nations. In Paris there is a social club called the “Victorious Nations Club,” made up of members from countries that were the winners of World War I. Japanese people can join, but Germans are prohibited.
(M) Learning history teaches us that, if a nation is going to wage war, it must make sure to win. Japan achieved a series of victories from the Meiji Period: the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. However, it was defeated in World War II. If it had been victorious, Japan might have conquered the world.
(M) China has a population of 1.4 billion people and is aiming for global supremacy. I think it poses a huge threat to Japan. No other country has maintained such a large population until today. I wonder if it will break apart someday.
(K) I think the household registration system, in which people are either urban or rural dwellers, will be an issue. This results in clear discrimination. For example, people who are born in rural areas cannot go to good universities, unlike those from Beijing, Shanghai, or other cities. I think the Chinese government fears that these people might revolt. About 30% of American academic papers about China predict that China will collapse in the future.
(M) I have repeatedly said that China will split apart and democratize, but the situation has changed in recent years due to advanced technologies that suppress revolts and division. The authorities use surveillance cameras and facial authentication systems installed throughout cities to immediately find out where people are and who they are with. In this way, they can nip uprisings in the bud and govern an enormous population.
(K) Maybe that means the current system will not collapse unless there is a revolt within the Communist Party of China (CPC). Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai clique, Hu Jintao’s Communist Youth League, and other factions have already been dismantled, and Xi Jinping is said to hold all the power right now. However, some American researchers who study China think that new malcontents will appear sooner or later.
(M) Xi abolished the CPC chairman’s term limit of two terms (10 years), which was established under Deng Xiaoping, and intends to maintain his power as long as possible. However, I do think China’s massive population poses a risk. Things might be fine while the economy grows favorably, but economic stagnation may expose social issues, and China could collapse. This would cause significant impacts in Japan.
(K) Deep inside their hearts, China people bear an intense grudge against the Japanese. Maybe this is because the Second Sino-Japanese War was fought in China. France also felt great resentment against Germany after being the site of fighting in World Wars I and II. It is no small thing for a country to become a battlefield.
(M) Japanese people aren’t very aware of this because there has never been a war fought throughout Japan.
(K) Yes. I think Japan should cooperate with China when it can while also being fully prepared to protect itself.
(M) Although Japan is a defeated country, it achieved its current prosperity by being close to the U.S. during the Cold War. Like that time, Japan should clarify its stance in this era of a Sino-American cold war…
(K) Japan’s stance is somewhat vague. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai made Xi happy by taking a delegation of about 3,000 people to China in 2015. The U.S. is suspicious of the Yoshihide Suga administration, in which Nikai holds the real power. That wasn’t the case with the Shinzo Abe administration. Suga should deal with China while firmly and clearly stating his support for the U.S.
(M) It’s not good to seem too cozy with China. Japan should also have offensive weapons to provide deterrence. I don’t think interceptor missiles are enough.
(K) I agree entirely. Japan’s problem is that minister of defense is not a high-status position, partially because the Ministry of Defense used to be the Japan Defense Agency. Defense ministers and secretaries in France, the UK, and the U.S. are given extremely high status among the different cabinet ministers, and these positions are filled by influential politicians.
(M) I think the Japanese minister of defense should also be a powerful politician who is given a bit more authority. It’s also bizarre that the minister has to report confidential defense information at the National Diet.
(K) You are correct. I don’t think the Diet members need to know everything. The MOD still brings a “shopping list” to the Ministry of Finance and negotiates the items on it.
(M) There are many issues to tackle, but I hope Japan will make progress towards the aim of becoming a normal country. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(K) I hope they will study Japanese history while also mastering foreign languages and learning about the values of those countries. I also hope they will actually go overseas to broaden their knowledge. This will show them the positive and negative aspects of Japan, and help them develop a healthy sense of patriotism.
(M) My patriotic feelings were cultivated by traveling abroad, and I hope that many people can have that experience. Thank you for talking with me today.
(K) Thank you.
Born in Tokyo. Professor in the Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University. Graduated from Waseda University’s School of Political Science and Economics. Earned his PhD in Political Science at the Universite de Paris I. Worked at the Embassy of Japan in France (Political Section: Middle East and Africa) from 1996 to 2000, and at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (as a researcher on Europe and Africa) from 2000 to 2004. Kataoka began working at Waseda University’s School of International Liberal Studies in April 2004, and was head of Waseda University’s Institute for Global Strategies from April 2006 to 2020. His fields of expertise include international relations theory, African conflicts and development, international security, and European security. He is friendly with many European and African politicians. Kataoka also serves as director of the Africa Society of Japan and director of the Association of African Economy and Development Japan ECA Committee. His major published works include Africa.