2020 Tokyo Olympics: Patriotic and political lessons for Nigeria and Africa, By Dr Ogbonna Onyeisi


Today, Friday, July 23, 2021, athletes and officials from 189 countries will gather in Tokyo Japan for the opening ceremony of 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This four-year international sports event supposed to have been held in summer 2020 but was postponed because of Covid-19 Global Pandemic. Every odd has been against holding it this year but International Olympics Committee (IOC) insists that the game would not be cancelled or postponed again. In his argument, Thomas Bach, the President of IOC asserts that hosting the game is to demonstrate that humanity can defeated Covid-19 pandemic and it will be opportunity to unite the world again after global lockdowns. However, about 80 percent of public opinions in Japan is against hosting the game because of the continued surge of the virus cases in Japan. Japan government has just declared fourth emergency lockdown in Tokyo and other big cities to curtail the spread and to convince the citizens and international community that Japan is safe to host the Olympics in 2021. According to Olympics hosting rules, the hosting country does not decide whether the game should be cancelled or not. It is the prerogatives of the IOC to cancelled or postponed the game. In response to Japanese public opinions against hosting of the game, Japanese Government has made official statements to support the IOC in hosting the game. The  government has also assured the citizens that all measures will be put in place to prevent further spread of the virus.

From the end of June, 2021, many participating countries’ s athletes and officials started arriving to Japan in preparation for the official opening of the game. On June 19, 2021, one member of the contingent arriving from the Republic of Uganda tested positive to new Delta variant of the virus. Some athletes from some countries have cancelled their participations, citing Covid-19 concerns. Just few days ago, Serena William, a foremost American tennis player announced her withdrawal from the game. Japan Government has announced that she will not accept spectators from overseas and that the number of local spectators that can participate in each game will be reduced drastically or cancelled entirely depending on the virus surge. One issue that somewhat seemed to have complicated Japanese preparedness for the hosting of the game is the country’s approach to making vaccine available to her citizens. So far, Japan remains one of the lowest among the Group 8  nations, in terms of the number of citizens that have been vaccinated.

Nigerian team, like many other African countries has already arrived Japan few days ago. Nigerian Olympic Committee came with about 61 athletes that are going to participate in Olympics. Nigerians are looking towards to Tokyo Olympics. Historically, international sports events like Olympics have remained a unifying factor for Nigerian citizens as most of the things that divide them like region or ethnic affiliations are usually forgotten during the period of such events.  Few days ago Nigerian Basketball team won a friendly game against the United States, raising Nigerian’s high hope for the Olympics. Nigerian athletes are expected to win big and come home with many medals of gold and silver.  As Nigerians and other Africans eye laurels at Olympics,  it will also be great opportunity to reflect on the great lessons that can be learned from Japan, the hosting country of 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Many people around the world admire Japanese ingenuity, especially her technological progress and economic miracle. Others think Japanese are not religious inclined. The reality is that Japanese do not fight for God as they believe humanity has limited strength and wisdom to fight on behalf of God. Humility is one of key attributes of Japanese people. In Japan, religion is an individual decision unlike what is obtainable in Africa and other nations with colonial mentality where some citizens are ready to volunteer to be God’s warriors, killing their fellow citizens because of different religious beliefs. There are many religious beliefs and also high level of religious tolerance in Japan. Japan has rich cultural values dating back thousand years and Japan Government had said that it will use 2020 Tokyo Olympic games to show the world the secret of peaceful society and its preparedness for future development. In economic sense, Japan is a leading geese, according to Flying Geese Economic Development Theory, developed by Japanese Scholar, Kaname Akamatsu in 1930. Flying Geese Theory is a economic development pattern which demonstrates how Asian economic miracle started from Japan and spread to other Asian countries. More importantly, Japan is a classical success story in modern economic development history on how a country can grow her economy and became a developed nations within a very short period of time. As every focus is on Japan within these weeks, what then are the patriotic and economic lessons a developing country like Nigeria and other African countries can learn from Japan?

In this dimension, let us start by looking briefly at the development history of Japan and identify those areas that will be of interest to Nigerians and Africans. One important lesson of Japan history to the world is the long history of Japanese Imperial Family. Family linage of current Japanese Emperor, dated back more than 3,000 years. That is the longest royal family blood linage in the world history. According to expert in Japanese history, this line of succession is as a result of Japanese cultural value of generation progress, where every generation has obligation to contribute towards continuous development of Japan society. The imperial family is still enjoying admiration of Japanese people and according to Japanese Constitution, Emperor is the Ceremonial Head of State. What attributes of the royal family that made this possible? Leadership, based on trust, patriotism and statesmanship are the foundation of Japanese Imperial family. For many centuries Japan resisted foreign influences on her culture or religion. Even though they adopted Buddhism, Confucius philosophy, and other foreign religions and culture like the use of Chinese Character in writing, subsequent Emperors before modern government institutions in Japan have contributed in preparing for Japanese homegrown development model. Historically, the Japanese Emperors have not paid allegiance to any foreign powers and Japan had resisted European colonialism. Japan has maintained her policy of anti- foreign influences till the end of World War II when she surrendered to allied power. Surrendering was an act of patriotism and statesmanship by Japanese Emperor who initiated the surrender to prevent continued genocide against Japanese people after United States dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese government before the WWII had promoted policy to fight Western Power’s expansions in Asia. Many Japanese scholars believed that Pacific War was fought to prevent the colonization of Asia in the manner Western World colonized African and other continents. The patriotic lessons here is the evolution of generation leadership where every generation continued to contribute patriotically for continuous progress, peace , unity,  and development of Japanese society.

Another patriotic lesson is citizen’s participation in Japan national development. Those with limited knowledge about Japanese history think Japanese is just one ethnic group or one dominant religious society. Japan is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society but their level of tolerance to diversity made their differences invisible to outside world. Every Japanese considers the well-being of Japanese society first before any other consideration, including self-interest. In recent decades, more than five former Japanese Prime Minsters resigned their positions at various occasions, not mainly due to political pressures but on issues bothering on moral ground, where individual attitudes and behaviors conflict with societal norms. One classical example was Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who resigned in February 2001 because he had continued to play golf after he got the sad news that some Japanese students were drowned while on study tour at the Japanese sea. He was criticized for not being sympathetic or empathetic to the mood of Japanese society at that moment. He apologized publicly for his action and tendered his resignation. Recently, in 2020, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned, because according to him, he could not do much to help Japanese people to prevent the spread of Covid-19 pandemics. There are cases where many heads of government agencies and private organizations resigned because they felt guilt that they have betrayed the trust bestowed on them to think about the Japan society first. Japan has the highest cases of suicide being committed by people in highest echelon of the society because they found themselves wanting in fulfilling their citizens’ duties and obligations. Citizens’ s involvement and elite consensus in the national development are some of the key factors that have helped in  promoting patriotism and statesmanship in Japanese society. The patriotic lessons here are trust, tolerance, responsibility and fulfillment of citizen’s duties and obligations.

Economic patriotism is another important lesson from Japan and is a very important factor that has contributed to Japanese economic development. The concept of economic patriotism here is different from economic nationalism. It is also different from patriotism based on religious beliefs or Machiavelli nationalism. It is a combination of morality and economy where a country is not only thinking about her own economic development but the development of her neighbors and the world. Japan was once the second largest economy in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product, before overtaken by China. Japanese governments over the years have created enabling environment for economic growth and development based on share growth theory. As an island nation without natural resources for export, Japan over the centuries has made education of the citizens as a great weapon for developing of her human resources. Japanese value system encourages her citizens and motivates them to develop hard-working habits and economic patriotic mind-set. Over the years, Japan has developed strategic policies to make sure every institution works, resulting in cohesion between citizens and institutions. In Japan, the political, economic, and social institutions work towards achieving national goals as set by the successive governments. In essence, oppression of the citizens by the ruling class is so minimal that every citizen is working towards achieving national developmental goals. The reality is that there is no perfect society, but some indices like low crime rate, one of the least in global corruption perception index, low unemployment rate, and freedom of expression have positioned Japan as country other nations should learn about economic patriotism. The history of the promotion of economic patriotism in Japan has been a concerted effort by Japanese Government in creating enabling environment where citizens feel sense of belonging to economic life of their societies and it is different from conventional economic development illusions which have continue to create inequality among citizens of nations.    

As Nigerians and other Africans eye medals of gold and silver in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they  should also try to learn some development lessons from Japan, this island nation without any meaningful natural resources but was able to transform her society from her human resources and become economic and technological hub and envy of the world. The Japanese patriotic lessons of statesmanship of the ruling class, the citizens involvement in their national building, and strategic promotion of economic patriotism where every citizen partake in the economic life of their country are great lessons to citizens of every country both the developed and developing countries from Tokyo Olympics. In essence, these patriotic lessons are necessary for Nigerians and other African countries as they aspire for national unity, peace, and economic development.

Dr. Ogbonna Onyeisi, mni is a Development Economist and the First Vice President, Nigeria Archery Federation, NAFED, Abuja Nigeria.  Email: ogbonyeisi@gmail.com. https:www.linkedin.com/in/ogbonna-onyeisi-ph-d-mni-345b48135.