Dennis Awori: Toyota in Africa

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  • Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00
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Formerly Kenya’s ambassador to Korea and Japan (2004-2009) and now representing Toyota Tsusho Corporation as chairman in 13 African states, Dennis Awori knows a thing or two about Japan and its commercial links to the world. Tokyo Journal met up with Awori to find out more.

TJ: So what does Toyota do beyond automobiles?
AWORI: Toyota Tsusho Corporation is the trading, investments and logistics arm of the Toyota group. It’s a fully fledged Japanese trading house with diverse interests, including metal, oil and renewable energy.

TJ: When did Toyota Tsusho Corporation start in Africa?
AWORI: It’s been in Africa for about 50 years.

TJ: How do you spend your days?
AWORI: Talking, actually, because I am leading new projects covering 13 countries in Eastern Africa. That’s Kenya [our hub], Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, North Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, the Seychelles and Somalia.

TJ: It must be challenging to rep-resent Japanese interests in such a different region?
AWORI: It has its challenges, but after all these years I have a pretty good understanding of the Japanese and the Japanese way, and because I know the Africans and the African way it’s possible for me to marry the two.

TJ: What are the biggest differences between the two cultures?
AWORI: Discipline and work ethic. The Japanese are extremely disciplined... Kenya’s not too bad, but in some [African] countries despite appointments being booked well in advance with those involved, reminded time and again, often they are still not honored. Slowly we’re beginning to get things to work as the Japanese expect. Japan and especially Toyota Tsusho Corporation are [starting to] invest a lot of money into Africa.

TJ: Is Japan’s Prime Minister Abe playing a key role in this investment?
AWORI: Yes. During TICAD V [The 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development], talks were split between trade and investment and ways to support the infrastructure that would facilitate trade and investments from Japan. Then on Mr. Abe’s recent trip [January 2014] to Africa, his discussion and speeches were geared towards the Japanese investing and trading in Africa as a foil against the current drive by China into Africa.

TJ: And is the Kenyan government working cooperatively with Toyota?
AWORI: Yes, we’ve even signed a memo that designates our big flagship projects under the country’s national development plan – we get a lot of support from them.

TJ: Do you have any local employees in Kenya?
AWORI: Yes, as well as a policy to promote them into senior positions. Looking forward from this we will also be doing joint projects with local companies.

TJ: Is Japanese culture spreading into Africa at all? Is there a sushi restaurant in Nairobi yet?
AWORI: Nairobi has several Japanese restaurants now. If you haven’t been to Japan you think they’re very good. But if you have... (laughs).

TJ: We feel for you! So what are the strengths of Kenyan business culture?
AWORI: [Our] very open society, our fervor that causes us to jump at new business opportunities, and our highly developed telecommunications and financial infrastructures. But we’re [also] very hasty and tend to think, “Man, that’s a good idea, I’ll go for it!” If I could spend more time studying than actually implementing...

TJ: But maybe when you balance that with the conservative Japanese you get a happy medium?
AWORI: (Laughs) True, maybe that’s why [the Japanese] like Kenyans so much!

TJ: Do you have a favorite place in Japan?
AWORI: Those islands in Shikoku. It’s beautiful there, even getting there...

TJ: And what is your favorite Japanese food?
AWORI: Unagi. But I’ve never seen so much variety! Literally every month I found something new, and I was there for five and a half years.

TJ: And you met the Emperor, correct?
AWORI: Yes, on several occasions. Both he and the Empress are very impressive and very knowledgeable about what is happen- ing in the rest of the world. [The Emperor had] actually visited Kenya and the continent.

TJ: So what prepared you to work with Japan? Did your experience in the U.K. help?
AWORI: I think it did because the U.K. does have similarities [to Japan]. It’s an island and both are smaller yet more organized than Kenya is. [But also], even prior to moving to Japan, I used to visit once a year.

TJ: Do you ever plan to retire?
AWORI: I hope to in five years. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #275 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

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