A Week that Deepened Ethiopia - South Korea Ties
South Korean President Park Geun-hye paid a 3-day State Visit to Ethiopia and the African Union (AU) Commission last week. President Park Geun-hye is the first President of South Korea to visit Ethiopia and the African Union.
Ahead of her special speech at the African union, President Park met with Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission. Zuma highlighted that South Korea has gained independence at the same time as many African countries but that the fortunes of South Korea and our member states have not been the same. The chairperson has said that Africa should look up to South Korea and that "The developmental state model developed in South Korea and in other parts of East Asia is the basis of our aspirations."
The late Ethiopian statesman Meles Zenawi has considered Korea's developmental policy and experience as a model for Ethiopia's development endeavor. Hence, Ethiopia is obviously interested in learning from the astonishing economic and social development experience South Korea. South Korea has transformed from an agrarian economy into a leading industrial economy in a short time frame and is now a model for its rapid economic development and vibrant democracy.
The diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and South Korea dates back to the 1950s in which Ethiopia sent its peacekeeping troops in the Korean War. The bilateral relations have been steadily growing in economic and cultural areas especially after the removal of the fascist military junta on this week of 1991. The South Korean government has recently launched a job training opportunity for 300 descendants of Ethiopian veterans of the Korean War.
The state visit aimed to deepen ties in economic cooperation as well as that of peace and security cooperation. In her visit President Park launched a development project called "Korea Aid," which comprises KMedic, KCulture and KMeal supporting Ethiopian health sector and promotion of cultural ties. Korea Aid also envisages supporting Ethiopia's efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. On Thursday, President Park pledged USD 1 million to help Ethiopia recover from the impact of El-Nino, one of the worst droughts in our history.
The South Korean leader met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the two leaders also signed one MOU on social welfare and four MoUs in the health sector which call for a broad range of joint research and public health collaborations, and exchange of medical personnel.
South Korean news outlets reported that Seoul's foreign affairs and security chief Kim Kyu-hyun had said the two leaders exchanged opinions on the North Korea issue. The news reports also said that the two leaders reached an agreement to work toward full-scale defense cooperation. South Korea is said to be feeling unease about North Korea making inroads in Africa. The President, in her speech at the AU the next day, urged African leaders to support international efforts to denuclearize North Korea and said that she wants African cooperation in urging North Korea to give up its nuclear program.
In an apparent exhibit of deepening ties, Youngone Corporation, South Korean textile and footwear manufacturer, disclosed it plans to invest in Ethiopia's burgeoning textile industry. Kihak Sung, chairman of Youngone, made the disclosure that the corporation is ready to invest in apparel and textile manufacturing after fruitful talks with Prime Minister, Hailemariam. He described textile as its gateway to Ethiopia’s market in which the corporation envisages huge investments. Ethiopia’s Ambassador to South Korea, Shiferaw Jarso, elaborated on it saying the company had already conducted feasibility studies in Bole Lemi as well as Adama industrial parks.
On Friday, further engagement was achieved through Ethio-South Korea Business Forum that was held in Addis Ababa with the presence of Prime Minister Hailemariam and President Park and the diplomatic and business representatives of the respective countries. The forum culminated in the signing of four Memorandums (MoUs) on business cooperation, investment promotion and capacity building, trade and textile industry.
Prime Minister Haliemariam lauded the business forum as one that would enhance the already strong cooperation between the two nations. President Park hailed the MoUs as cementing of the trade and investment relationship. She also stated that Ethiopian industrial parks has attracted South Korean investors and pledged to further strengthen the bilateral relations in various aspects.
At present, twenty South Korean firms are investing in Ethiopia in various sectors including industry and infrastructure. South Korea is also said to be preparing to provide assistance for construction of the Modjo-Hawassa highway. To advance the increasing cooperation in investment, trade, technology transfer, training, capacity building and experience sharing, the Korean government has opened facilitation offices such as KOPIA, KOICA, KOTRA and others. The two countries have demonstrated strong interest to advance the bilateral relationship to a new level and to further strengthen development cooperation.
President Park has also made a special speech at the African Union Headquarters in which she pledged her country to be a trustful partner that grows and develops with Africa. "South Korea would like to share its experiences of development that it has learned through a variety of efforts made over the past half century”, She said.
She unveiled new education and vocational training opportunities for 6,000 Africans in either South Korea or Africa and to send 4,000 South Korean volunteers to Africa over the next five years. The president emphasized that South Korea will make efforts for “mutually beneficial and future oriented economic cooperation” with Africa. She unveiled plans to set up technology innovation centers in Africa in order to share South Korean experience of innovation with African countries and to also cooperate with the African Union on education and healthcare of African girls. Park also pledged to strengthen the framework for cooperation with Africa by expanding and deepening the existing institutional foundation that link South Korea to Africa. The 2018 annual meeting of African Development Bank (AFDB) is slated to be held in South Korea.
President Park also stated that she was offering her country to be an "African companion" in development. "We will share various development experiences learned from our own trials and errors over the last half century.”
Ethiopia is on a promising run towards achieving accelerated development modeled after what is known as “the Asian Miracle”. South Korea has passed through that and succeeded in reaching advanced level of industrialization. Therefore, the South Korean interest in investment and economic cooperation testifies that Ethiopia is on the right track. Ethiopia has a lot to learn from South Korean experience and the boost in bilateral relations that results from the visit of the president is a fruitful undertaking.