Madam President you won’t snub Africa, will you?

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President Park Geun-hye.

  1. * Edited version published by The Seoul Times on February 8th, 2013.

Dear Madam President. Receive my heartfelt felicitations for seollal, the lunar new year. If it is in order, allow me to commend you on your election.

Now to my point. Madam President, it seems to me that you’re commencing your executive journey on the right footing. I mean you are now the safeguarding vital links with your key political and trade allies globally. Indeed Beijing and Washington remain dominant in the contemporary geopolitical realm. Others like Tokyo, Pyongyang and EU’s main office (Brussels) are undeniably significant depending on the attitude they bear toward you and your country.

But Madam President, I wish to plead for Africa. This time, let’s forget the ‘begging bowl’ images of 80s and 90s. I want to proclaim to you that Africa is rising, and seriously so.

Admittedly, the West tried doling out aid for decades but look where Africa stood – stuck in a socio-political and economic quagmire. But that was then. So what has changed? I say the attitude; purely the attitude, Madam, President. You see, with comprehensive structures for transparent trade and innovations, African business executives, literati, politicians and even farmers can now catch their own fish – affirmatively, they got the intellect, the vision, the passion. The younger generation now possesses a kind of drive that birthed saemaul undong, Korea’s revolutionary village movement.

Picture this Madam President: Since 2000, six of the ten nations with the highest economic growth globally were in Africa. In fact, the IMF has predicted that Africa’s growth rate will topple that of Asia in about ten years. Your predecessor,  President Lee Myung Bak, noted in 2011 (when he visited Africa) that African economic development driven by its one billion people will create a new stage for the global economy in the 21st century. He added that Africa is the “hope for the future of this planet.” It may sound hyperbolic but the statement is still still profound.

Madam President, there is also, a new wave of in-depth reforms in the ‘safari land’. It is now easy to start businesses and directly invest in Africa. The judiciary, health and educational infrastructures are being reformed whereas revenue collection, food security and youth empowerment programs have been enhanced. More oil and natural gases have just been discovered – the takeoff is imminent.

One more thing Madam President, vital institutions will now keep politicians’ noses out of the national coffers. You know, we can’t be wrong always, and I think Beijing saw it coming and acted  swiftly… shhh, we cannot gossip on that, right?

Seven years in this “land of the morning calm” may not make me an expert but I am convinced that a Korea-Africa partnership will be quite revolutionary. Africa has more reasons to trust Seoul than to suspect her. And again, Korea was where Africa is today not so long ago.

Thankfully, the outgoing administration helped to establish the Korea–Africa Economic Forum among other contextualized initiatives. Another notable economic catalyst is the direct flights from Seoul to Nairobi by Korean Air. And the fact that trade between Korea and Africa increased by more than fourfold from $5.7bn to $22.2bn between 2000 to and 2010 is a decent indicator. Trade volume between my country, Kenya, and Korea actually grew by over 260%. Incredible. But sadly trade balance is still hugely in favor of Korea.

And lest I be accused of radical optimism, I will now make a clarification. There are and still and will be many gyrating challenges of tribalism, corruption and poverty facing the continent. In fact, my fingers are somewhat crossed as I await my country’s most significant election since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1992.  If you ever pray, please remember my beloved motherland. Yes, the challenges are real and might not be eliminated in a day, not even in five years, nevertheless, when important socio-economic and political cogs begin turning, you better be excited. I mean, haven’t you heard Zimbabwe is now 18% better?

Madam, you can open a new chapter with Africa’s new potential. And when all is said and done, you will be remembered, Madam President.

* The writer, Benson Kamary, is a freelance journalist.

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