MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – South Korea, not known as a world-beater as a foreign investor, has pledged $10 billion in energy and infrastructure investment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The extraordinary pledge came at this year’s Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) Ministerial Conference. KOAFEC is the meeting of a consulting group founded jointly by the Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the African Development Bank (AfDB) that aims to promote economic and social development. This year marks the conference’s fifth meeting, held in Seoul from October 24 to 27.
Despite lingering memories of foreign encroachment, Africa in recent times has shown considerable enthusiasm for partnerships with Asia. South Korea is just one of the East Asian economic powerhouses turning their focus to African nations, many of which are still developing countries but nevertheless show significant annual growth in GDP. China, of course, leads the Asian pack.
“Africa’s consumer market is growing,” said AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina to The Korea Times. “If you want to invest, you will invest where the population is growing, where the middle class is rising and where the business environment is improving.”
While leaders of the AfDB stressed the importance of knowledge-sharing, South Korean attendees placed focus on the promotion of Korea’s developmental model as a way to push for economic growth. South Korea’s own robust economy boomed in the latter half of the 20th century, coinciding with the empowering of the Korean middle class and the business sector.
Although once a nation with economic power on par with Sub-Saharan African nations, South Korea now ranks as the 12th largest economy in the world. Adesina cited South Korea’s economic journey, often called the “Miracle on the Han River,” as a model for the kind of economic miracle he hopes to see happen on the African continent.
Chief among the issues that Adesina and South Korea want to address is the matter of agricultural infrastructure in Africa. According to researchers, hunger and poverty on the continent is caused primarily by problems in food distribution rather than food production. Investments in the betterment of agricultural infrastructure should fix some of those distribution problems.
Adesina has a plan to help Africa reach its goal of economic prosperity, but to make it work, he’ll need help from Asia. At the 2016 KOAFEC conference, the South Korean government pledged $10 billion to Adesina’s economic agenda over the next two years. The KOAFEC delegates, in keeping with the conference’s theme of “Co-Prosperity,” are optimistic that African economies can benefit from South Korea’s experience of rapid growth. China is not the only major Asian economy that envisions Africa as integral to its 21stcentury future.