Kenya to emulate Korea‘s development model
‘We need Koreans’ technology, experience and energy,’ envoy says
By Philip Iglauer
Korea’s relationship with Kenya and, by extension, with the African continent, is poised to take a leap forward.
Korean-Kenyan investment and trade surged in recent years and could jump still higher with direct flights set to begin in June _ that alone could double Korean investment, cut travel time to Nairobi from Seoul from 26 hours to less than 13.
Kenya is being transformed into an industrial nation from a rural one, into a middle income economy from a poor one and into vibrant society from one dependent on Western aid.
Kenyan Ambassador to Korea Ngovi Kitau believes Korea can be credited for his country’s transformation.
“We are adopting a Korean model of government from next year to separate the government from politics because right now they are one,” Kitau said in an interview with The Korea Times on Kenya’s ambitious plan to double income levels and raise annual growth rates to 10 percent by increasing manufacturing as a share of GDP to 25 percent from its current 12.
“Kenya needs industrialization because we are moving toward manufacturing instead of concentrating on agriculture,” he said.
It is straight forward program, the former rugby star athlete said with the force of a football coach. “You need energy, you need technology, and you need a model to propel that. That is what we need from the Koreans.”
“We need the experience they have gained in science and technology, because I believe in these fields the Koreans are among the best in the world,” he said.
Dubbed the nation’s “Look East” policy by its technocrat chief executive, President Mwai Kibaki turned Kenya toward East Asia’s new global powerhouses for new sources of investment and for development partnerships.
“You see our issue is industrialization. When it comes to industrialization you need some with practical experience,” he said. “From the prospective of development, look at Korea. Korea took 40 years to move from the bottom rung of development to riches, to move from a per capita income of less than $100 to more than $20,000.”
Unlike the United States and Great Britain, which package their economic aid with lectures on corruption and human-rights abuses, China, India, Japan and Korea do not tie economic partnership with democracy promotion.
Kenyan-Korean cooperation on development in the East African country has also led to the opening of a new school to train future nuclear engineers. The KEPCO international nuclear graduate school (KINGS) opened recently in Seoul with the eventual aim being for Kenya to build its own nuclear power plant.
“We look east because they do have the experience for how we can best implement industrialization.”
Kenya’s need to feed its voracious development appetite pushes its demand for foreign capital and investment flows and, consequently, its new Look East policy.
East Asian diplomats do not openly criticize Kenyan domestic policies; they are all about business. Kitau explained why the African-Asian partnership is the right fit.
“It took 150 years for Britain to move from a per capita national income of $1,300 to $3,600. We don’t have that kind of time. So, Korea has the experience we need to move faster, because we are operating on our program that we calling Vision 2030,” he said. “By the year 2030, we should be fully industrialized. We should have a growth rate of about 10 percent.”
Approximately 5,000 Korean businessmen and government officials and at least five multinational Korean companies operate in Kenya. Korea is investing in the construction of a $50 million technical and entrepreneurial training facility.
Seoul will become the single most important transportation hub, servicing transport from all over East Asia to Africa.
“Korea’s population is more analogous to Kenya. They have about 50 million. We have 40 million,” he said. “China has 1.4 billion people. We’ll never have a population like that. So there is not point going after an industrialization model like that.”
“Look at their background. Koreans were once very poor. A long time ago, Korea’s GDP was lower than Kenya’s. Now look at Korea. That is what we are looking for, that experience,” he said.