The new Japanese Ambassador to Malawi, KAE YANAGISAWA is a career diplomat who enjoyed growing up with the support of her parents to achieve successful career paths and fully understands the gains of empowering the girl child. Having served at the top level at the United Nations and as Vice-President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) she is now in Malawi to support the country’s development efforts. Our reporter NELLIE JOBO caught up with the ambassador to find out more about her mission. Excerpts:
What impression did you have when it transpired that you would be taking a diplomatic post here in Malawi?
I was very excited because prior to my appointment and soon after my appointment I had heard a lot about Malawi from colleagues who had worked in Malawi or had connections with Malawi. I had heard that the people are warm and peace loving and that Malawi is a beautiful country with abundant biodiversity. So I really looked forward to finally experiencing the beauty of Malawi. I had also heard of the various challenges facing Malawi so I am happy to take up a post through which I can effectively contribute towards Malawi’s socio-economic development.
Tell us more about yourself?
I am an open-minded individual who is passionate about development having worked in the field for over 30 years. My educational background is in international relations and I did my studies in Japan and the USA. I come from a family of three girls. We enjoyed growing up with the full support of our parents to achieve successful career paths and I am pleased that the hardworking spirit that was instilled in me has paid off with this new and exciting assignment as Ambassador of Japan. In my free time, I enjoy reading Malawian newspapers [which I find informative and interesting], playing the piano and enjoying the beauty of nature. I also like learning new languages and I am currently learning Chichewa. I hope to be a fluent speaker soon.
Where were you before you came here?
I was in Japan serving as Vice-President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency [Jica]. I started-off my career in Jica and steadily rose to the ranks of managerial level. I worked in the United Nations [UN] for a while, but I returned to Jica where I was until my appointment as Ambassador.
You have just announced yourself to the country as someone who is interested in efforts to promote women empowerment. Just how do you plan to make an impact in this regard during your tenure in the country?
I look forward to cooperating with the relevant stakeholders’ including government in initiating and supporting existing interventions to promote women empowerment. In this connection, I plan to exchange ideas and share knowledge and experience as a way of beefing up efforts. I usually stress that empowered women are a crucial link to sustainable development and a peaceful community because women by their nature tend to focus on the general welfare of the people around them. In this regard, empowering a woman is the same as empowering a community and society. I have actually already met several Malawian women leaders from the various sectors of development and have had fruitful discussions with them. I also look forward to cooperating with yet others.
What similarities do the two countries share?
Japan and Malawi are quite similar despite being thousands of miles apart. For instance the people are friendly, reserved, humble, and have the utmost respect for elders. Furthermore, observance of protocol and value for culture is also embedded in both peoples. In addition both peoples are peace loving and hardworking.
World history suggests Japan was one of the poorest economies on the globe. Can you please share with us some of the steps the country undertook [that Malawi can learn from] to reach the envious levels it is now?
There were several steps that were taken but perhaps I can highlight a few. For instance, one of the aspects is its openness and thirst for learning from other countries throughout its history. This involved learning new ideas and technologies and contextualizing them to fit the Japan context. Furthermore, there was emphasis on a bottom up approach to development whereby community members were encouraged to be part of the development efforts such that the people were accorded an opportunity to contribute and grow in addition to having a sense of ownership. This consequently facilitated sustainability of the efforts. Also worth sharing is the necessity of promoting a healthy and educated nation through enhancing equal access to quality education and health systems. For instance, Japan whilst reeling from the effects of World War 2 introduced universal health insurance coverage and endeavored to strengthen its health and education systems to promote equality. Also of prime importance was the promotion of private sector participation in development. I hope to share these and many other lessons during my tenure.
What legacy do you plan to leave behind when your tenure ends?
I wish to promote the spirit of learning from each other. One can never have enough knowledge. Besides, success is always accompanied with the thirst for more knowledge. I also want to instill the value of working hard and having confidence. I wish to ignite the belief that nothing is impossible if you put your heart to it. I also hope to leave a good impression of Japan including the goodwill of the people of Japan towards the people of Malawi.