Robert Mugabe meets Shinzo Abe
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) welcomes president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (R) on 1 June 2013. Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty

President Robert Mugabe flew out of Zimbabwe on 10 March 2016 to Singapore, where he has regularly travelled to for medical attention, and is heading to Japan, where he will pay an official visit to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from 27 March to 31 March.

Relations between both countries hit a low in 2000 when Japan suspended technical cooperation, except for humanitarian aid, after Mugabe carried out its Fast Track Land Reform Programme, prompting the West to impose sanctions on the African nation.

Since 2012, however, Zimbabwe-Japan relations have improved, and Mugabe is now hoping to solidify the nation's Look East policy by boosting investment and economic cooperation deals with Abe.

Strengthening Zimbabwe-Japan relations

Abe is seen as eager to find business opportunities in Africa and develop new markets for its firms in Zimbabwe.

Following bilateral talks during the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama, suburban Tokyo, in 2013, Japan agreed to give $14bn (£9.95m, €12.54) in aid to Africa over the next five years. In 2014, Abe pledged millions of dollars to Zimbabwe for disaster preparation and risk management.

Abe, who considers Zimbabwe to be an important ally for Japan, is believed to be ready to pursue a robust discussion regarding UN Security Council (UNSC) reforms that his country has been pushing for. These include an additional six permanent seats in the UNSC – four of them going to Japan, Germany, Indian and Brazil, and the other two reserved for African countries. On multiple occasions already, Abe has appealed for African nations to back Japan's bid for a permanent seat.

Discussing China's growing influence in Africa

The Japanese prime minister is also expected to discuss China's geopolitical influence.

China, which became the African continent's first trade partner in 2009, has promised African leaders present at a two-day business conference in South Africa in December 2015, that it would inject $60bn (£42.6bn, €53.7bn) into development projects, cancel some debt and bolster infrastructure and agriculture in the next three years.

Zimbabwe's Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko has taken the role of Acting President during Mugabe's state visit.

President Robert Mugabe's itinerary in Japan

During his stay, Mugabe, First Lady Grace Mugabe and Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi are expected to make a number of state visits.

First, the presidential couple is expected to meet Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. They are to host a court luncheon for Mugabe and his wife.

According to the Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, Abe will hold a meeting with Mugabe and host a dinner for the Zimbabwean president.