Korea-Kenya Relations: A Review!
It is now 54 years since Kenya and S. Korea established diplomatic ties. S. Korea maintains an embassy in Nairobi whereas Kenya maintains one in Seoul. Currently, about 1,300 Koreans live in Kenya 60% of which work with missionaries and NGOs. Kenyans in S. Korea are slightly less than the above but they have kept increasing over the years. Majority are there for studies.
Cultural exchange is shaping up. Each year, the Kenya Embassy in Seoul strives to host/participate in cultural events, sharing the Kenyan culture while at it. In 2017, the Embassy spearheaded the establishment of ‘Kenya Corner’ at Kyungpook National University in Daegu. The room is equipped with books on Kenyan culture and will be a perfect hub for Koreans to find out more about Kenyan culture. The same goes for the Republic of Korea Embassy in Kenya which established Korea corner at the University of Nairobi, with the goal of sharing Korean culture with Kenyans. Aside from that, the Korean embassy has a line of annual festivals for music, food and film which it uses to share Korean culture with Kenyans.
Bilateral trade is quite commendable although imbalanced in favor of S.Korea. It is worth US$ 330 billion. Kenya exports about US$ 30 million worth of goods to S. Korea. S. Korea exports about US$ 300 million worth of goods to Kenya. Main exports from Kenya to Korea include; tobacco, coffee, scrap metal, gemstones, pyrethrum, spices, fish, wood products, and handicrafts. Main exports from Korea to Kenya include; iron & steel products, plastics, electrical machinery, ICT equipment, chemicals, rubber products, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles.
Foreign Direct Investment is increasing. Many South Korean firms such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai maintain their regional headquarters in Nairobi. The foreign remittances by Kenyans from S. Korea have helped revitalize our economy.
On the diplomatic front, key government officials and dignitaries from both countries have been visiting, a factor that has bolstered our bilateral ties and relationship. In 2012, the then Korean Prime Minister Hon. Kim Hwang-sik paid Kenya a visit. His Kenyan counterpart Hon. Raila Odinga would later visit S. Korea in the same year. Fast forward to 2016, Former Korean President H.E Park Geun-Hye made a state visit to Kenya as part of her Africa tour. Numerous agreements were signed to improve cooperation between Kenya and S.Korea
The establishment of Korean Studies center at the University of Nairobi and King Sejong Institute at Kenyatta University have been vital in promoting Korean culture and its affairs in Kenya. This has helped to alleviate the cultural barrier between the two countries which is critical to trade and other diplomatic relations. As the two nations keep at it, we at the Bridge hope that the relations continue to soar and keep strengthening by day.
By Socrates Luseka
Illustration by Sakina Taherali