Korea may seem an unlikely model for Canada’s engagement in Africa, but the country’s size and adept diplomacy might have a number of lessons for Canadian policy makers who have yet to establish a clear agenda for Canada on the continent. With a population of 50 million, and a economic growth rates to envy, Korean industry and government are taking a proactive approach to building economic and policy cooperation in Africa.
Most recently, following a presidential delegation to Ethiopia, South Africa and the Congo, Korea demonstrated the power of diplomacy with billions of dollars worth of contracts and impressive MOUs with companies across the industrial spectrum. Firms like Daewoo have been building up a presence in strategic industries for a number of years, and it this type of personal and diplomatic capacity that is missing from Canada’s policy engagement with the continent.
The Korean delegation had a nuanced appreciation of Africa’s diversity and had prepared distinctive projects and technical offerings for each country. Domestically, Korea has invested heavily in technology and sustainable industry, and as a result, the country has world leading solar technology, and it is now exporting successful project concepts to Africa.
CADS interviewed Samsung’s head of business development for Africa, as well as representatives from Daewoo in Cameroon, and both companies have unique strategies for success in areas ranging from equipment procurement, network security and power grid and solar projects to heavy machinery. Both companies stressed the importance of having a committed diplomatic corps as key to long-term project success and local human resources development on Samsung projects. If Canada is indeed hoping to be partner in Africa’s success the government must invest the time and effort necessary to build deep institutional and personal links in the emerging regions of continent.
At a time when CUSO barely exists and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has chosen to focus work in only 7 (Ethiopia - Ghana - Mali - Mozambique - Senegal- Sudan - Tanzania) of Africa’s 53 countries, Korean engagement across the continent should be inspirational. Currently, the Korean Overseas Volunteers (KOVs) programme facilitates professional exchanges from Korea, and between 1990 and 2008, 938 KOVs were dispatched to Africa, and ODA for strategic projects is increasing.
These exchanges are in addition to established high-level diplomatic contacts, with the second Korea–Africa Forum held in Seoul in November 2009. In the forum declaration Korea pledged to double ODA to Africa by 2012 compared to 2008 levels. In the DR Congo in particular, South Korea has been aggressively courting new business.
As part of this trend, Korea’s ODA to Africa increased from $39 million in 2005 to $104 million in 2008 and Africa’s share of the Republic of Korea’s ODA to developing countries rose from 8 per cent to 19 per cent over the same period. This is happening at a time when Canada is scaling back investment in all sectors. At this crucial juncture in African development, one must ask what is the long-term logic driving this withdrawal?