Japan’s less-publicized “connection” with African commodities

The Japan-Africa thing might be last week’s news, but better late than never:

This Japan Times feature, ran to coincide with Japan’s hosting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development did a good job of putting an identifiable and good-natured face on the conference’s goals, whatever they might have been. How better to bring the Japanese taxpayers around to supporting aid to Africa than to emphasize the “connections” between Africa’s sweet, sweet resources and Japanese daily life?

Few Japanese may be knowledgeable about far-away Africa, but the continent’s exports affect daily life here.

With the Wednesday start in Yokohama of the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, one should pause and take a quick glance at facts and figures about the continent’s many valuable and necessary commodities.

Here in Japan, you might start the day with a cup of coffee from Ethiopia, the fifth-largest supplier of raw coffee beans to this nation, after Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Uganda and Zambia meanwhile ship cobalt, essential for making batteries that go into computers, mobile telephones and digital cameras.

The off-hand mention of Ugandan cobalt reminded me of a recent NPR report on the world’s largest uranium mine, which is also a significant source of cobalt. The reporter breezily explains, “As mines go, it’s a honey. It has high-quality ore and a history of saving the Allies during World War II.”

Of course, the reporter is referring to the mother of all life-saving American freedom bombs — the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps that’s one connection to Africa the Japanese aren’t so keen on being reminded of.