Elsje Fourie (University of Maastricht)
In recent years, the Japanese government has had considerable success in stimulating many African businesses and institutions to experiment with the adoption and implementation of the ‚Kaizen‘ business philosophy. Closely associated with Japan’s own rapid industrial development in the 1970s and 1980s, kaizen has been seized on by a range of African countries aiming to emulate this apparently miraculous success story. One such country is Ethiopia, where kaizen has been given a prominent place in the ruling party’s second national five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (2015-2020) and where dedicated official institutions devoted to the study and dissemination of the concept have been established.
Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Addis Ababa in May 2016, this paper examines the motivations of the key actors involved in bringing kaizen to Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s ruling party actively seeks to harness this philosophy not only towards economic growth, but also towards political gain and even for the purposes of broader social engineering. Kaizen is therefore a key plank in the Ethiopian government’s vision of state developmentalism, while for the Japanese government it is an opportunity to bolster its soft power by acting as a reliable and pragmatic political partner to Ethiopia. This approach towards development assistance runs largely parallel to aid programmes conducted by Western donors but represents part of an increasingly central (co-constructed) project between primarily East Asian donors and African recipients to bring the developmental state to Africa.