South Korea dangles ‘tailored’ support ahead of its first-ever Africa summit

Wednesday May 08 2024

Mr Chung Byung-Won, the Korean Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of African Affairs, addresses a group of African journalists at his office in Seoul, South Korea on April 24, 2024. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Rice may not be a staple in most of East Africa, but it is one of the most consumed cereals in the region.

Koreans know it, so, over the past couple of years, they have introduced a technology for higher-yielding seed, known as K-Rice.

In East Africa, Kenya and Uganda have been pilot sites, although the K-Rice Belt is wider on the continent, including Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ghana and Cameroon. The project helped produce 2,040 tonnes of seed in 2023.

And Kenya and Uganda expect to produce about 2,300 tonnes of seed on average by 2027, the presumptive time the four-year project is to run, Korean officials say.

Most of these African countries will be able to produce own seed, carry out mass production of this type of rice and address food security.

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“Even if the technology is small, as long as it is rooted in the local people, it will have a significant impact. When Korea was in poverty, we received a lot of help from the international community, now we feel it is our turn to help,” said Kim Hwang Yong, director-general for Technology Cooperation Bureau of the Rural Development Administration, South Korea’s principal agency for research in crop and livestock husbandry.

He was referring to South Korea’s rise after its war with North Korea to become one of the 20 most-industrialised nations in the world.

Kim spoke to a group of African journalists invited to Seoul ahead of the first-ever Korea-Africa Summit.

The Koreans say the summit is not just about rice or food. They say they have invited all African heads of state and government to pitch their preferred kind of cooperation.

Chung Byung-won, South Korea’s Deputy Minister for Political Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said there will be something new for Africa.

“Korea is willing not only to increase the quantity but also the quality and efficacy of its assistance to Africa. To this end, it provides tailored support to meet the needs and conditions of each African nation,” he said.

Indeed, Korea’s official development assistance has been smaller compared to other rivals. It has contributed over $18 million since 2016 to support the African Union’s Peace and Security activities. And its direct official development assistance to Africa in 2023 was $6 billion, most of it in non-financial terms such as scholarships, technology assistance to research agencies and training.

Seoul says this assistance brought more local advantage. They cite the Knowledge Sharing Programme (KSP), where South Korea uses its institutions to pair with respective African agencies for a project. Since 2004, KSP has conducted 82 consultation projects in 16 African countries.

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Mr Chung said this kind of assistance for Africa will double by 2030. But most of that will depend on the summit outcomes, and if African leaders actually attend and make pitches.

The meeting in June is tailored around the theme of “The Future We Make Together: Shared Growth, Sustainability, and Solidarity”.

Officially, South Korea says the summit will reflect President Yoon Suk-Yeol’s “commitment to fostering a mutually beneficial, sustainable and strategic long-term partnership with Africa, aligning with Korea’s vision of becoming a Global Pivotal State.”

But it will be about seeking business opportunities. Mr Chung said the Korea’s priorities on investment in Africa will be to: “First and foremost, establish a conducive environment for Korean companies to collaborate seamlessly with their African counterparts.”

Seoul also says it is targeting to benefit from the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement and wants to help address some of the trade barriers by supporting the technical rebuild of African customs systems, mimicking its Korean electronics customs clearance system. It won’t be the first country to rush in for AfCTA though. Which means African countries’ priorities will be key.

Ngovi Kitau, a former Kenyan ambassador to South Korea, said African countries should lean on their local think-tanks to prepare policy briefs that will help pitch ideas at the summit.

“It is policy which gets funded, not good speeches,” he told The EastAfrican.

“Two things African leaders must do; they must align with Agenda 2063 of the African Union and they need African think-tanks to hold dialogue and prepare priorities to help them prepare for the issues that matter to Africa,” he said.

Seoul has indicated it is looking at “Africa's burgeoning market and ambitious own growth and supply chain diversification” to boost its firms. It has also indicated African minerals offer lucrative business support for its industries.

Kitau said it should be Africa’s opportunity to argue for local processing of those minerals.