Cote d‘Ivoire opens new chancery
Envoy eyes ‘Saemaul’ or New Village Movement for his country
By Philip Iglauer
Cote d’Ivoire is moving fast to take advantage of the political stability that has finally settled over the nation after some 13 years of division and ethnic violence. The Ivorian diplomatic mission in Korea recently moved into a new chancery on Jan. 15 in Hannam-dong, Seoul and the West African nation’s top envoy here is looking to Korea’s Saemaul Movement as a development model to upgrade Ivorian agriculture.
Cote d'Ivoire Ambassador to Korea Ekra Kouasi Florent said it is his goal during his posting to bring valuable lessons from the Korean Saemeul Movement experience to Cote d’Ivoire.
“We think the Korean model can do something to transform our great agricultural potential into something really special,” Ekra said in an interview with The Korea Times at the newly minted chancery, Thursday.
Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, the raw material of chocolate, and it is also a significant exporter of coffee. It exports many other agriculture crops, too, having diversified its agricultural sector, to the European Union and around the world.
It is also a key transport point for neighboring West African countries, such as Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkino Faso and Ghana, delivering everything from agricultural products to electricity.
That’s because agriculture in Cote d’Ivoire is comparatively well developed despite the withering effects of more than a decade of internal strife.
“Right now this cooperation is too small for us. We are hoping we can really do something in this field,” Ekra said.
While Saemaul’s official ethos of self-help, diligence and cooperation among rural communities could not hurt Ivorian agriculture, increased Korean development assistance and investment would certainly help.
Ekra said that Korea disbursed more than $3 million in training, health, education and in humanitarian assistance in 2011.
Ekra’s enthusiasm stems from the belief that Cote d’Ivoire is poised to be another African success story.
The country’s stately and modern new chancery was matched by Ekra’s enthusiasm for results.
“Our representation here in Korea comes perfectly within the president’s watch word ‘work harder for better results,’ he said. “With the improvement in the country's finances we have moved our embassy to this new and more functional building.”
He said he wanted to have his nation’s embassy to have an entire building, and not simply occupy a floor in a downtown skyscraper.
“We are expecting that 2012 will be one of the best for the return Cote d’Ivoire on to the international scene and (this new chancery) will be a good signal of our return to work of development.”
Although the civil unrest it endured was devastating, it was also unusual. For 38 years since its independence in 1961 under the leadership of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire was conspicuous for its robust agricultural economy and ethnic and religious harmony.
This ended in 1999. After Houphouet-Boigny died, the country was plagued with successive coup d’etats, political discord and ethnic violence for the next 13 years.
The situation has finally calmed in November 2011. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara was elected in an internationally recognized fair election. Peace and national unity was restored.
Florent said that many Ivorian workers are now receiving training about the Saemuel Movement. Four PhD students are studying at such Korean universities as Seoul National Universities focused on subjects like environmental engineering.
“I am very interested in the Saemaul Movement because, from the information I have about this movement, it was one of the big transformational instruments that increased the level development in Korea,” Ekra said.
He said that villages Nzida and d’Ebra are experimenting with the Saemaul rural development strategy, and he has plans to expand it expand it to every one of Cote d’Ivoire’s 19 regions. Just half of the nation’s 20 million live in cities.
Ekra said he plans to invite Lee Jai-chang, president of the Saemaul Undong Training Center, to visit Cote d’Ivoire this year.
“My goal is to expand this to many more villages and to open a Saemaul Movement bureau in Cote d’Ivoire. If we can have Saemaul Movement in many villages, then I think we can do the same thing,” he said.