South Korea’s president embraces ‘Harambee’ spirit, pledges billions in aid and trade

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol yesterday invoked Kenya’s national motto ‘Harambee’ in a bid to endear himself to African leaders gathered in Seoul for a major summit. Harambee is a Swahili word that loosely translates to ‘pulling together’ and the South Korea leader was using it to indicate the need for cooperation. During the opening ceremony, President Yeol made pledges to an audience of 25 African heads of state and government, among them Kenya’s President William Ruto, promising to double official development aid to Africa to $10 billion by 2030, and provide $14 billion in export financing to Koreans seeking trade and investment opportunities in Africa.

But he first described the similarities between the two sides: colonisation, struggle against poverty, and learning the art of working together. “We share these similarities. Korea is ready to move forward with Africa as a true friend,” he said, referring to the Asian country’s rise from poverty to development. Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta had used the word Harambee often to rally the public to work together to tackle disease, poverty and illiteracy. During the summit’s opening session, which took the roundtable format, President Ruto told the audience true cooperation relies on establishing mutual benefits.

The summit, he added, was a welcome first step to creating a system that profits both sides. “This summit demonstrates a resolve to elevate this relationship and mobilise political will needed for Africa and Korea to prosper together through mutually beneficial collaborations,” he said. “To do this, we must leverage on our complementarities and implement win-win strategies on the basis of equal partnership.” Rwanda’s Paul Kagame described the summit as “long overdue.” “Korea is a global pivotal state and Africa is a pivotal continent,” he said.

“It is only natural for us to draw closer for many years ahead, for many reasons. First, Korea knows the value of sovereignty and independence as well as the struggle required to achieve quality accountable and inclusive politics.” “This summit serves to remind us that even more can be done.” On the sidelines of the Korea-Africa summit, Kenya and the Korea Exim Bank signed two deals worth $238 million to fund the Konza Digital Media City. The project, according to Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei, will help “establish a cutting edge film and creative economy hub at Konza Technopolis.”

Korea Exim Bank Executive Director and board member Hwang Kiyeon signed the deal together with Dr Sing’oei. President Yeol spoke during the opening session of the inaugural Korea-Africa Summit at the Korea International Exhibition Centre in Goyang, near Seoul where the heads of state and government, or their representatives, from 48 African gathered to listen to what the summit promised as “the future we make together.” President Yeol said South Korea will work together with African nations to ensure resilient supply chains of critical minerals and digital transformation and to address climate change, food security and public health issues.

Seoul, he added, will ensure resilient supply chains of critical minerals and digital transformation and to address climate change, food security and public health issues. The opening session will today be followed by a series of business discussions. Yesterday, President Yeol said his country aims to expand trade and investment with Africa through a series of agreements, such as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and Trade and Investment Promotion Frameworks (TIPFs). Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco are some of the countries already negotiating bilateral EPAs.

Mr Yeol appended state visits within the summit, giving special attention to Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Sierra Leonean leader Julius Maada Bio. He was expected to hold bilateral talks with President Ruto yesterday evening. Today, summit participants are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding christened ‘Key Minerals Cooperation Partnership.’ The document will not be legally binding on all participating members but the South Korean presidency indicated it will provide guidelines on future cooperation, including possible value addition related to crucial minerals.

The summit is being co-hosted by Mauritania, the chair of the African Union this year. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani said African leaders had already shown confidence in Korean relations by honouring the invitations. “I believe that the very reason African nations are attending this summit is because African countries are expressing their steadfast trust and gratitude towards South Korea.”

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