The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe and Japan are working on finalising various memoranda of understanding as the two countries deepen their bilateral relations. The Sunday Mail’s TANYARADZWA RUSIKE (TR) sat down with the new Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr YAMANAKA SHINICHI (YS), who officially commenced his duties in December, to discuss relations between the two countries.
TR: Can you begin by outlining your main mission to Zimbabwe?
YS: I am very much privileged and honoured to be assigned as the Japan Ambassador to Zimbabwe. I just arrived at the beginning of December and I am so excited to work in this country. There are many areas that I think Zimbabwe and Japan can collaborate on and it is in my mission to identify those areas and work together with our Zimbabwean partners to enhance our relations.
I am also eager to learn a lot about Zimbabwe, including speaking Shona.
My main mission to Zimbabwe is to represent my country and deepen our relations. I would like to achieve a lot for Zimbabwe and also for the relationship between Japan and Zimbabwe.
I can say this country has beautiful nature; nice people who are very gentle, disciplined and highly educated.
Recently, I spoke to the President that I am ready to find common nature between Zimbabwe and Japan so that we can cooperate.
TR: How do you describe the current state of relations between Zimbabwe and Japan?
YS: I would like to describe the relations between Zimbabwe and Japan as very good.
If we look at the cultural and personal exchange, I can say the people-to-people exchange is very important, and the advantage of Zimbabwe is that you have a lot of the wild heritage that is very attractive for tourists.
We have also been cooperating with Zimbabwe in the education sector, whereby 20 students benefit from a Japanese scholarship yearly.
One of the good news about this scholarship is that students who studied in Japan contributed to the first orbiting satellite for Zimbabwe, ZimSat-1. The satellite was established by young Zimbabwean scientists studying at the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan.
TR: How is the trade between the two countries?
YS: Concerning the economic contribution to our relationship, unfortunately, it has changed since Zimbabwe experienced economic challenges (in 2008).
Before that, in the 1990s, we had more than 20 Japanese companies that were based in Zimbabwe.
Exports to Japan used to be more than US$150 million then but now it has gone down to US$39 million.
The content of the export from Zimbabwe to Japan is mainly the tobacco leaf and mineral resources. I am delighted to learn that the number of cars from Japan is increasing in this country, so we would like to make the most out of the potential that is available to increase the economic and business relationship.
TR: How do you plan to increase economic and trade cooperation?
YS: I used to work for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is implementing the development cooperation.
So, I have experience and knowledge in this regard.
Soon after the independence of Zimbabwe, we had a lot of cooperation with your country, including big infrastructure projects, mainly in telecommunications and road construction.
Now, due to the current macroeconomic situation, it is difficult to provide concessional loans to your country; that’s why it is difficult to support big infrastructure programmes.
But still, we are continuing our cooperation in a number of areas, like grants and development cooperation such as the Kariba-Karoi stretch. We are also cooperating well in education.
TR: Last year, your embassy indicated its intentions to support rice production in Zimbabwe. What is the latest on this?
YS: One of the highlights of our cooperation is our commitment to increase rice production in Zimbabwe.
In 2022, The First Lady, Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, visited Japan. At that time, she requested the Japanese government to support Zimbabwe in rice production because rice consumption is currently increasing.
We have a special brand of rice for African countries called Nerica, which stands for the new rice for Africa. We are currently supporting the production of Nerica rice in Zimbabwe.
Last year, the leading expert in this field, Dr Tatsushi Tsuboi, came here twice for some cooperation on rice production.
Now, the project is in its experimental stages. In accordance with Dr Tsuboi, the weather and soil conditions in Zimbabwe are the most favourable for this rice production.
The other advantage is that the staff at the Agriculture Research Institute here have been assisting us, and they have been excellent.
TR: What would you like to see improving during your tenure?
YS: We really understand the good potential of this country. You have rich mineral resources, a vibrant agriculture sector, majestic tourist sites and human resource assets.
The most important thing is to secure a more stable business environment to attract Japanese companies.
I hope that a more stable currency, improved banking system and the continuing fight against corruption will attract more investors.
In terms of the development cooperation from Japan, we would like to expand and we are also looking at Zimbabwe’s continuing programme for clearance of arrears and debt resolution, as this will grow financial cooperation between the two countries.