• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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South Korea-Africa Summit: Has a new chapter opened in South Korea-Africa relations?


With the conclusion last Wednesday June 5, 2024 of the first-ever South Korea-Africa summit attended by no fewer than 30 African Heads of State and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, the big question on the lips of many analysts is whether a new chapter has been opened in the relations between the Republic of Korea and Africa, which began in the 1950’s. This question has become pertinent because, though the relationship between the two has always been cordial, it has not been impressive enough in terms of economic cooperation, particularly in the areas of trade and investment.

Africa is a huge consumer market with a population of 1.4 billion and a GDP of $3.4 trillion and currently, South Korea’s trade with Africa accounts for only 1.9% of total trade, according to statistics gleaned on Wikipedia at the weekend.

Read also: Nigeria’s oil-dependence straining economic growth, widening inequalities – AfDB

In fact, the Chairman of the Africa Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat lent credence to this when he declared that the trade volume between Africa and Korea remained insignificant. “In 2022 Africa accounted for 2% of Korea’s trade,” Mahamat said, while advocating promotion of bilateral trade relations and more exchanges in the private sector and focusing on key value-added areas.

However, it would appear the situation is about to change. At last week’s two-day summit, held in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, important agreements were signed between South Korea and Africa, and pledges of economic cooperation and assistance were made.

President Yeol and the leaders of African countries agreed to forge deeper trade and business cooperation. They also resolved to launch a “critical minerals dialogue,” which will be convened later this year. Indeed, given the desire of South Korea to tap into Africa’s mineral resources and potential as a huge export market, the summit expectedly had a heavy focus on critical minerals. Africa is estimated to be home to 30% of the world’s reserves of critical minerals, including lithium, chrome, cobalt, and manganese.

Apart from the minerals dialogue, a major highlight of the summit is the declaration by the Republic of Korea to commit $14 billion in export financing to support Korean companies investing in Africa, while also increasing its official development assistance (ODA) to $10 billion over the next six years.

In a joint resolution agreed to by South Korea, the African Union (AU), and its member-nations, the leaders pledged to speed up talks about economic partnership agreements, trade and investment promotion frameworks.

They called for advancing cooperation for Africa’s food security with South Korea’s support, harping on Korea’s agricultural technology and smart farming. African leaders also lauded South Korea’s “Tech4Africa” initiative aimed at supporting education and training of Africa’s young population.

President Yeol also promised that Korea would extend its Trade and Investment Promotion Frameworks, and Investment Protection Agreements to African countries.

On their part, the African leaders praised Korea for its open and mutual approach to strengthening cooperation with the continent based on shared prosperity. They highlighted investment opportunities in their own countries and across the continent.

And speaking at a joint news conference with President Yeol, AU Chair and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani said African countries were looking forward to learn from Korea’s experience in developing human resources, industrialisation and digital transformation.

South Korea has done excellently well for herself given that a couple of decades ago, it was a poor and aid-dependent country wracked by the Korean war. Today, South Korea is a developed economy and a superpower. Many African leaders turned up for the summit in their bid to draw from the impressive development trajectory of South Korea and her giant accomplishments as an economic power by strengthening economic cooperation with the Southeast Asian nation. This is perhaps why Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa said at the summit that, “the Journey travelled by Korea is a beacon and source of encouragement to Africa as it works to lift its people out of poverty.”

In total, up to 48 African countries either had their presidents or prime ministers in attendance at the summit or represented. Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggah, represented President Bola Tinubu. The theme of the summit- “The Future We Make Together: Shared Growth, Sustainability, and Solidarity-” resonated well with Africa and its present challenges. It was the largest multilateral event organised by South Korea since President Yeol mounted the saddle in 2022. South Korea’s overture to Africa comes at a time its recalcitrant neighbour North Korea seeks to break out of diplomatic isolation.

It is important to highlight some of the speeches and other useful aspects of the summit. Ambassador Tuggah said Nigeria was at the event to further strengthen ties and explore new cooperation opportunities, emphasizing Nigeria’s commitment to bilateral relations and addressing shared global challenges.

He spoke of the country’s readiness to boost trade and commerce, saying under President Tinubu, the country has put in place the right policies to engender a favourable business environment for foreign investors.

African Development Bank Group President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who was also present at the summit, while referring to the theme of the summit said: “To show solidarity with Africa, for the ‘future we make together,’ I wish to request that Korea solidify this Korea-Africa Summit by agreeing to re-channel SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) to the African Development Bank.

“The approval by the IMF Board for use of SDRs of $20 billion for hybrid capital, as championed by our institutions, with immense advocacy of African heads of state and government, marks a new way to scale up development financing.”

According to him, “The IMF-approved $20 billion limit for SDR re-channelling for hybrid capital, channelled through the African Development Bank and other multilateral development banks, will deliver $80 billion of new financial support.”

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said Korea’s experience had shown that a country could be radically transformed in the course of a generation. Then pricking the conscience of the African leaders on why the continent has remained poor and at the bottom of the global poverty ladder, he asked: “Is there any reason Africa hasn’t become a high-income region?”

President William Ruto publicly acknowledged the African Development Bank’s financial innovations. He told Korea to consider channelling some of the SDRs through the African Development Bank.

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, president of Mauritania and Chairperson of the African Union, and co-chair of the summit alongside host President Yeol, described the summit as an opportunity for both sides to renew their commitment to shared growth and partnership based on mutual respect and trust.

King Mswati III of Eswatini spoke like an African statesman, encouraging Korean business community to invest in any part of the continent they like. “Choose a location to establish industries. Choose anywhere. We are no longer competing but collaborating.”

Has Nigeria benefited from the conference? I think so.

South Korea’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Kim Pan Kyu, told this writer that the gains accruing to Nigeria from participating at the highest level of the summit was unquantifiable. Apart from providing opportunities to strengthen relations between South Korea and Nigeria, it has helped to boost business for Nigerian institutions on the basis of shared prosperity because Korea “is a genuine partner of Africa.”

Indeed, and as if to confirm Kyu’s assertion, on the sidelines of the summit, the Korea Exim Bank, International Finance Corporation, AfDB, Afrexim Bank and KIND all declared their readiness to fund projects and programs in Nigeria including infrastructure projects, which cuts across the continent like the Mombassa-Lagos Corridor and the Lagos-Abidjan corridor.

Former Secretary to Edo State Government Taiwo Akerele who attended the summit said the country’s delegation also had high-level side events that featured Nigerian organisations such as Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), etc.

A non-governmental organisation from Nigeria, Policy House, among others, also participated in the green energy transition event- Accelerating Access to Green and Climate Finance for Africa- featuring former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

In the end, I cannot agree less with both President Yeol and Cote d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara who both described the summit as a turning point in the relationship between Korea and Africa.

Rahman is a Senior Presidential Aide