On the 27th of October 2018 the Kenya Community in Korea met for its Annual General meeting. A large number of Kenyans from all over Korea convened to elect their leaders. The session started at 2 p.m. and ended at 5 p.m. Among the attendants were Kenya’s Ambassador to S. Korea Amb. Mohammed Gello, the Deputy Head of Mission Amb. Gathoga Chege and members of staff from the Kenyan Embassy
The elections went on successfully after a couple of speeches. H.E Amb. Gello was later called upon to address the community. He reminded everyone on their role as Kenya’s Ambassadors to Korea from whichever areas they came from or positions- be it students or workers. He thanked the previous regime and congratulated the newly elected officials. The session also served as a send-off for Mrs. Gaudencia Ayisi whose term working at the Embassy had come to an end. She left Korea for Kenya towards the end of December 2018.
Mr. Creavhon Okech was elected the new Chairperson. He replaced Ms. Joy Mworia. Other key elected officials were Mr. Ndiang’ui Wahome (Secretary General) and Ms.Valentine Wanjiku (Public Relations Officer), and a couple others. Their reign will last the next 2 years. We wish them well.
His Excellency Ambassador Mohamed Gello hosted a celebratory reception to commemorate 55 years of independence of the Republic of Kenya on 11th December, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul. The celebrations served to amplify Kenya’s prestige in the Republic of Korea and provided an opportunity to celebrate Kenya’s remarkable attainments at home, regionally and internationally since independence in 1963.
In attendance were about 350 guests comprising officials from the Government of the Republic of Korea, Ambassadors and other representatives from the diplomatic corps, associate agencies including the International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Korea Trade and Investment Authority (KOTRA), Importers Association (KOIMA), Chamber of Commerce (KCCI) and the Korea Trade Association (KITA). The Kenyan fraternity in Korea also came in their numbers in a show of solidarity under the auspices of the Association of Kenyans in Korea (KCK).
In his remarks, Ambassador Gello indicated that Jamhuri Day was a reminder of our hard won freedoms and a call of duty for all Kenyans to safeguard the fruits of our hard work as a nation. He highlighted the remarkable economic milestones and the blue print for future progress captured in the Presidential Legacy dubbed the Big Four Agenda. He pointed out Kenya’s growing influence in international affairs following the successful conclusion of the high level blue economy conference that was held in Nairobi on 26th-28th November, 2018 and in this respect, he expressed appreciation for the support and participation by Korea. In addition, Ambassador Gello lauded the vibrant pace that characterizes relations between Kenya and Korea underpinned by the various high level exchanges including the visits of the Korean Prime Minister Mr. Lee Nak-Yeon to Kenya in July as well as Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amb, Monica Juma to Korea in October, 2018. He also hailed Korea’s stewardship in the ongoing effort to establish peace in the Korean Peninsula.
The Guest of Honour, Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, Amb. Joong Wo-You, in his statement recognized that Kenya was the first African country in which Korea established diplomatic presence thus providing great impetus for the current strong ties between the two countries. He recognized Kenya’s strategic significance in regional and continental affairs and reiterated Korea’s commitment to enhance bilateral cooperation. Representing the Korean National Assembly at the occasion was the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and President of the National Assembly’s Forum for Africa’s New Era Ambassador Lee Ju-young who emphasized Kenya’s unlimited potential as a regional hub for ICTs, commerce and industry. He called for the optimization of bilateral engagement in areas of mutual interest including energy, infrastructure, health, education and agriculture.
The colourful occasion featured a Kenya Corner which served delicious Kenyan cuisine such as Mukimo, chapati, ugali, managu, samosas, bhajia and kachumbari that proved popular with both Kenyans and Koreans. A beverage point was also set up to provide a taste of premium Kenyan AA coffee which has to date found resonance with many Koreans.
Friends of Kenya including KOICA, Hyundai Engineering and Construction, Daewoo Engineering and Construction, Korea Tea Board, Paradise Group, Kenya Airways, Korea Federation of Textile Industries (KOFOTI), Goldrock Korea, LG Corp, Korea-Kenya Economic Forum KKEF, KEB Hana Bank (Itaewon) and Yooshin Engineering Company sent elaborate flower arrangements in recognition of this momentous landmark in our nation’s history. The profusion of beautiful colour was testament to Kenya’s influence and outreach in Korea as well the goodwill of our interlocutors and cordial relations nurtured over the years.
The future for Korea and Kenya is very bright. Feb.12 was the greatest and happiest day since Kenya and Korea established diplomatic relations on Feb. 7, 1964. The successful kickoff ceremony for the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, (Kenya KAIST), which is being developed by a Korean consortium; and the signing of a certificate of commencement, which took place at the Konza Technopolis, is a historic breakthrough and fulfillment of a dream which started 10 years ago. It was reinforced by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Kenya and the Government of South Korea on May 31st, 2016 during the visit to Kenya by the then President Ms. Park Guen Hye.
High-level delegations from government, academia and the private sector from both Korea and Kenya, with the Korean KAIST-Samoo-Sunjin consortium taking the lead, were present to witness the dream come true.
The Korean side sent seven delegations starting with one from the Korean KAIST led by President Shin Sung-chul, and Dr. Chung Kun-mo, a project advisory board chairman and the nuclear scientist who started the Korean KAIST, benchmarked on U.S MIT in 1971. Others were from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Nairobi, led by Ambassador Choi Yeong-han; Korea Eximbank; KOTRA; Samoo Architects & Engineers; Sunjin Engineering & Architecture; and Korean expatriates in Nairobi.
Kenyan government ministries and agencies were led by Professor Collette A. Suda, Chief Administrative Secretary and Principal secretary of the state department for university education and research, who was also the chief guest. Others included, the project implementation team; universities; the Kenya architectural sector; the Konza Technopolis development authority led by chairman Dr. Mutiso and CEO Eng. Tanui; and regional congressmen led by Adeline Mwau, the deputy governor of Makueni County.
The envisioned Kenya KAIST is a world-class science and technology research university. It is a very crucial institution, whose benefits will accrue, not only to Kenya, but the entire African continent.
Notwithstanding the above, let me highlight some very important benefits of KAIST to both Kenya and Korea. One, It will guide us, in our future together, as Kenya embarks, on a knowledge-based economy, and Korea pursues new markets in frontier and emerging markets.
Secondly, by conducting pertinent research that will attract FDI to Kenya, led by Korean companies, KAIST will also provide a bulwark against Chinese global initiatives, such as Made in China 2025 and AI 2030.
As Kenya enplanes innovation-led growth, leapfrogging on Korea’s highly valued experience and advanced technology, KAIST will be a linchpin, in this endeavor, and process; and the upshot will further elevate and strengthen the longstanding friendship and the flourishing partnership between Kenya and South Korea.
There is no doubt that Kenya KAIST will transform the Kenyan economy. However its sustainability will depend on funding. Prof. Shin Sung-chul informed me that the Korean KAIST has three revenue streams namely: the Korean government (25 percent), donations (35 percent) and industrial-academic collaboration (40 percent). This “triple-helix” model of technology transfer with three actors ― university, industry and government ― all playing indispensable and irreplaceable roles in the national system of innovation, has worked very well worldwide, and will work even better for Kenya KAIST, supported by industrial-academic collaboration from Korean chaebol and SMEs.
There are many Korean industries facing domestic challenges which can immediately team up with Kenyan KAIST to open new markets in Africa. One such industry is the auto industry which is lagging behind global rivals. It has even been overtaken by emerging countries like India and Mexico. It registered its third consecutive year of decline, last year, and was the only country to have declined among the top 10 countries. Now is the time for Korea to enter expanding and profitable markets in Africa.
In conclusion, this is the time to hold hands together and say “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Let Korean companies team up with the Kenya KAIST to create either autonomous, co-owned, or regional technology holding companies, as well as affiliated companies, for mutual benefit and prosperity.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Kenya’s first Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2009-2014).
The 2018 Korea Cultural Festival took place on the 15th of December at the Westgate Shopping mall. For only a hundred shillings, Kenyans got the chance to try out Korean food. There was a variety of Korean dishes to check out.
On the 3rd of October, we celebrated Korean Foundation day at the residence of Korea’s Ambassador to Kenya in Lavington, Nairobi. The celebration commemorated the foundation of Korean nation dating back to 2333BC. The Guest of Honor was the Principal Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr. Macharia Kamau. His address highlighted the Kenya and Korea bilateral relations from 1964 to present day. The attendants were later treated to great Korean classical music and Taekwondo, and then lunch that featured rich Korean cuisine.
The Embassy gets a new Ambassador.
On the 31st of October 2018, the term of Amb. Kwon Young-Dae came to an end. This came after three years of service. He is now Korea’s ambassador to Lebanon.
The current Korea’s ambassador to Kenya, H.E Choi Yong Han, arrived in the country on the 21st of November 2018 and presented credentials to President Kenyatta in December. Amb. Choi has a BA in International Relations from Seoul National University and an MBA from the State University of New York, Buffalo USA. He previously worked as the head of International Cooperation at the ‘Korea Institute for National Unification’ and was the Director General of ‘International Corporation Bureau.’
In the early month of September 2018, His Excellency Amb. Mohammed Gello was invited over to Arirang TV for the Diplomat interview series. The following interview ensued and this is what he had to say.
So you started your tenure in Korea from 2015. How has your life been in Korea?
I have enjoyed every bit of my stay in S. Korea. 3 and half years so far. While preparing to come here I had read a lot about Korea but upon settling everything became a thrilling surprise; the history and its multicultural aspect. The transition from a poor country to a rich country is nothing short of fascinating. The culture is indeed unique; the character of people, their welcoming nature, and the desire to always express and share their culture. I have enjoyed my stay.
Looking back on this stay what was your most memorable moment?
Many things have been memorable. First was when I went south in Jeonju, a region famous for making Bimbimbap. I had my first Bibimbap there and it was great. Bibimpap is one of my favorite Korean foods alongside Bulgogi. I also love Korean Barbeque. I can’t go for two weeks without trying out Korean barbeque.
Second is the Pyeongyang Winter Olympics. It was a first for me. Also, my other memorable experiences have had to do with the everyday contacts I make with people, especially Koreans; whether in a hotel, in a shop or when going to the market. It has been a wonderful experience. So basically I have enjoyed everything in this country.
H.E. Amb. Gello and Amb. Gathoga Chege join other Kenyans in drumming support for Ms. Sabrina Simader, Kenya’s sole representative in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
I feel like Kenya and Korea share a lot of similarities. Can you elaborate.
Yes, we do share quite a lot of similarities. Not many years back Korea was where Kenya was but then it chose a different path on development. I also think where a significant similarity lies is from the fact that both countries put a lot of premium on human resource. Kenya is not a very rich country in terms of natural resources. Our development is because of the fact that we spend more money on education.
It is not surprising that Kenya was among the first countries for Korea to open its Embassy. Less than two months after our independence, Korea opened its embassy in Nairobi. This is because of the fact that the two countries share some similarities. Then again transitioning from an Agriculture led economy to an industrial power base it is today is what we are trying to do now. Trying to understand how Korea got it right, why we did not follow their path and what we can do.
I heard that the Kenyan embassy was opened in 2007 and you mentioned that it should have opened earlier. Why?
I regret that we did that in 2007. The reason for opening an Embassy in Korea was very clear. We have had a very strong relationship since Kenya became independent and we believed that there was a lot we could learn from Korea.
Going back to why I felt we should have been here before.
We were both developing countries nearly at par in terms of GDP and we decided to take different paths that we all felt were right. But I guess if we were here and saw your development path, we would have learnt from your experience and would probably be somewhere near you. That is why we are now here. We are working with Korea to emulate the path that they took. Right now we are working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Energy of Korea (MOTI) to develop a Korea style industrial park. So you can imagine if we were here long time ago. We would be very far.
I heard that the Embassy of Kenya has been making great efforts to spread Kenyan culture in Korea. Can you elaborate.
Yeah, we do that. We do that in many events that we participate in like the Seoul friendship festival. We have the Seoul Africa festival and it usually takes place during Africa day. We go as far as Busan and other cities to participate in cultural activities, through dance, through music, spreading of artefacts and food. Through this we are able to bring people together.
I think the most important thing is bringing people together and giving them space to know each other. When people know each other better, then they get to understand what is good in each other’s culture.
The Kenyan Embassy booth at a past Busan International Travel fair. The embassy uses such fairs to promote Kenyan culture in Korea.
What would be the best way to bring the two countries even closer in your own opinion.
Strengthening the areas of cooperation. Fast is to continue with the political process of ensuring that our leadership is more closer, there is exchange of high level visits and support for each other in many ways, not only at the bilateral level but also at the multi-lateral level.
Sustainability of relations also depends so much on economic cooperation. This could be achieved by ensuring that more Koreans are able to do business in Kenya and that Kenya is able to export and sell more in Korea. When countries trade more, they become closer. Of course cultural cooperation is very critical because through culture people understand and appreciate each other better. And therefore when more Koreans know about Kenya and more Kenyans know about Korea, our relations will be strong.
So, this will be my last question for you. What word or phrase could describe your philosophy as an Ambassador.
As an Ambassador my philosophy is always to make sure that wherever I go, I leave it a better place in terms of relationships. That I broaden and deepen that relationship. I am glad that in UAE and in Korea, I have achieved those. Promoting relations, strengthening relations and ensuring that there is an exchange of high level visits.
On the first ever official visit by a sitting Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Republic of Korea, the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Seoul hosted Amb. Monica Juma, CBS, Dphil, on 8th October, 2018. The visit was a milestone in the sustained effort to deepen and broaden the spectrum of engagement between Kenya and Korea.
During the visit, the Cabinet Secretary held meetings with three high level government officials within the Government of Korea as follows: the Prime Minister Mr. Lee Nak-Yeon, First Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Cho Hyun and the President of the Korea International Cooperation Agency Ms. Lee Mi-kyung.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary established a unique momentum to amplify bilateral engagement as it closely followed the visit of the Korean Prime Minister in July 2018 and an earlier tour by the former President Ms. Park Geun-hye in May, 2016 during the two high level officials from Korea held consultations with the President H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta.
The vibrant consultations during the visit of the Cabinet Secretary pegged bilateral relations a notch higher and enabled deliberations on means of amplifying collaboration particularly in trade and investment with emphasis on the need to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers. Emphasis was laid on fostering closer engagement with line Ministries and agencies in the agricultural sector to adapt a targeted approach in the promotion of Kenyan products to gain greater market share in Korea.
With regard to the Big Four Agenda, the Cabinet Secretary indicated the priority areas for cooperation with the Republic of Korea as follows: Food security with emphasis on increasing volume and nutritional value and development of species adaptive to the changing climatic conditions; Development of human resource for health care professionals; Exchange of experience with regard to affordable housing in order to adequately address the effects of increasing urbanization; Capacity building in the ICTs sector as it is cross cutting in all the areas of development.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary was instrumental in mobilizing support and participation of the Republic of Korea at the high level Blue Economy Conference that took place in Nairobi on 26th-28th November, 2018. Officials from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of Korea attended the conference as well as representatives from academia and the private sector to share the Korean experience in the successful mainstreaming and optimization of the marine resources.
The visit by the Cabinet Secretary provided fresh impetus for the Kenya Mission in Seoul to pursue its mandate to elevate relations between Kenya and Koreaa. In this regard, the Mission in conjunction with the Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands Directorate is pursuing the process of constituting a joint working group to oversee the implementation of decisions and projects as agreed during the meeting between H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Korean Prime Minister H.E. Lee Nak-yeon during his visit in July, 2018. The Mission is also anticipating the 5th Session of the Kenya/ Korea Joint Economic Commission (JEC) scheduled for 2019 that will enable greater engagement in areas of mutual cooperation including education, ICTS, health, agriculture, trade and investment as well as water and sanitation.
Amb. Kwon Young-Dae is the current Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Kenya. Alongside Kenya he is accredited to Somalia, Comoros and Mauritius. He has served for 3 years. His career spans from serving in the US, Iran, Germany, Brazil and now in Kenya. We paid him a visit and this is what he had to say.
So, who is Ambassador Kwon Young-Dae?
(Chuckles) I was born and raised in the country side of Chungcheong Province, South Korea. I am married and I have two boys, one is currently serving in the Korean military and the younger is studying here in Kenya. He is in 7th Grade. I graduated from Seoul National University having majored in History for my Bachelors Degree. I further went up the education ladder and got a Masters degree in Political Science at Georgia State University, USA.
What kind of activities do you engage in when not working?
I like different types of sports, especially Football, Soccer, Baseball and Basketball. Also, ever since I came to Kenya, I play golf nearly every weekend. When I have free time, I play the guitar as well. My other favorite hobby is playing the Korean traditional game called Go (usually played with black and white stones).
Having served as a diplomat for many years, how has your journey been?
Being a diplomat has enabled me to travel to different countries. I started out as a consul in the United States of America; at that time I was a Korean consul in general at Atlanta. I also worked at the Korean Embassy in Iran. I was posted to Germany and Brazil as well. This time I am serving in Kenya, where my post is accredited to 3 other countries too.
In what way have you benefited from your career?
Because I have been to several countries, I have been able to learn different cultures and people. I have enjoyed being a diplomat; diplomacy has motivated and inspired me. I like it.
Growing up, did you have dreams of being an Ambassador? Why did you choose this path?
In my early years I thought of becoming a lawyer but later on discovered I didn’t like some aspects of the legal debate, somehow not in sync with my character. When I was in university, I wanted to become a professor until my 3rd year when I was drafted into the Army. After finishing my military service, I suddenly changed my mind and applied for the Korean diplomat entry exam and subsequently became a Diplomat. My professor had recommended the exam, instead of being a professor which usually takes a lot of time.
What makes you wake up every morning?
Everyday my priority is to serve my nation and humanity. As a Korean diplomat I try to strengthen our national interest in order to serve my nation. I do my best. Service for humanity is also important. Nowadays my priority is in Environmental issues and Sustainable Development. Since the world is experiencing global warming and climate change, I would want to make my contribution to a better environment some day.
You have lived in Kenya for quite some time, which is your favourite Kenyan food?
Kenyan food would not be complete without ‘Nyamachoma’. It is very delicious and therefore my favourite. ‘Ugali’ is also good because it is similar to Korean Rice cake, though ‘Ugali’ is made from maize flour and Rice cake is made from rice. I also like chapatti.
On a light note, have you ever eaten ‘Githeri’ (beans and maize mixture)?
Yes I have eaten ‘Githeri’ and I liked it.
Which is your go to destination in Kenya?
When we think about Kenya you think about Maasai Mara, which is one of the greatest African Wildlife reserves. When I went there I enjoyed the most spectacular Wild Ecosystem and the safari big games; especially the Wild Beast migration which is amazing. I have been to Amboseli National Park, which has a spectacular view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Amongst the wild animals that you have seen, which is your favourite?
My favourite is definitely the Lion. The big five as well, especially due to the endangered species crisis amongst the big five. It is usually hard to find the leopard and the cheetah, and so we should preserve our endangered species. Another animal I like is the hyena, and more because of its behaviour like its hunting technique. Some people complain that hyenas steal food but they are intelligent and smart. At times they attack Lions all together, and therefore through the hyena I have learnt about cooperation (chuckles) which is very important when hunting.
Which tourist destination would you recommend to our readers if they decided to visit South Korea?
I fully recommend Jeju Island. It is recognised as the best preserved area in Korea. Jejudo is the only island province in Korea. It is the most popular honeymoon destination site as well. It is known as ‘a little Hawaii’ for its balcony landscape, sub-tropical scenery and sand attraction. Jejudo has old texture cottage with walls made from lava, which offers a great chance for tourists to enjoy the Island’s unique pop culture. Also the sea food is very delicious. Busan is also a popular tourist destination point, known for its beautiful sandy beaches. It is quite similar to Mombasa.
What would you like to tell our readers about the Korean Embassy?
I hope the relations between Korea and Kenya will be strengthened more. I hope that Kenyans and Koreans will be able to know each other more. That is why I try to promote cultural exchange and people to people exchange programmes. We live in different geographical areas so through exchanges we are able to know each other better. As the Korean Ambassador, I try to upgrade the bilateral ties between Korea and Kenya in the various fields. Now, I have given top priority to the ‘Big 4 project’ that was initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta; affordable housing, universal health care, manufacturing and security, that is in line with the Kenyan government policy.
Lastly, any word of advice to our readers
I want to take this opportunity to tell all the young students that you have great potential. First, you should work very hard. To quote Mandela, ‘education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.’ You are young and therefore you can do anything. Do not give up but keep on working hard. It will pay off and you will accomplish your dreams. Do not be afraid of failure, for example to quote Michael Jordan where he said that during his career he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots, and that is why he succeeded. And therefore even though you may fail, try to take lessons from your failures, be brave and do not be afraid of making mistakes. Challenges are important as they better you in future.
Ehwa Woman’s University in Seoul, Korea and the University of Nairobi in Nairobi Kenya, are working together to promote knowledge on Korean culture. For the last two years, students at The University of Nairobi have had lectures from S. Korea through teleconferencing. In 2016, from May to August, the students learned Political Economy of Korean Development through a Lecturer from Ehwa University, Department of Political Science. In 2017, students were taught Korean Social Political Philosophy by a lecturer from Sookmyung Woman’s University.
The mission and purpose of this program is to improve relations between Kenya and South Korea. More to it is to improve the knowledge about Korea. The courses are meant to expose students to other dynamics of Korea such as economy, literature, culture and other relevant Korean matters. The program runs for 11 weeks which is equivalent to 1 semester. The best performing student gets a chance to visit Korea for 1 month.
This year, the UoN students are thrilled about the program and have enrolled in large numbers. Julius Macharia and Bhavisha Patel, students from the 2017 class, say it is always an interesting experience learning about Korea through online. They also applauded the lecturers for their outstanding teaching.
The 2018 class is set to study Korean Economic Development by Pof. Kim Sei-Wan from Ehwa Woman’s University. He flew to Kenya for his first lecture. We caught up with him for a short interview. The class will run from January to April.
Bridge: Please tell us about yourself
Prof. Kim: I am an Economics lecturer at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. I got my degree in the United States. I’ve also taught at California State University, Department of economics.
Bridge: Is this your first time in Africa? How do you find Kenya?
Prof. Kim: Yes, this is my first time in Africa. Kenya is a land of so much economic opportunities. I am here to lecture students and I am looking forward to a good time.
Bridge: For how long have you been doing the online class, is this your first time? Have you ever done it with other universities in other countries?
Prof. Kim: I have done online teaching for some time now; I have a lot of experience in this area. I’ve done online classes with the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, Bonn University in Germany, among others. I have years of experience in online teaching.
Bridge: What do you plan to achieve with the class of 2018?
Prof. Kim: I want the students to learn about Korea’s economic growth. Korea was poor, especially after the war but now 50 years later, it has grown to richness, currently being the world’s 11th largest economy. In this way, students can learn how Kenya can develop into a super power.
Bridge: From your observation of previous classes, how has this program been of benefit to those universities and the students?
Prof. Kim: The program has boosted knowledge about Korea and Korean economic society. This has led to rapid economic growth and a good relationship between countries.
Bridge: What advice do you have for students who’ll be taking the class?
Prof. Kim: I would like the students to read more about Korean history, culture and economy, outside what is taught in class. They can also read about the popular K-Pop.
Bridge: What’s your future expectation of this program?
Prof. Kim: I expect it to be given more chances to develop, reaching out to more countries in Africa and Asia. This will build a good relationship between countries and therefore boost economic growth.
My name is Elizabeth Wangari. I work at the Office of the Korean Ambassador (Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Kenya) as the Secretary.
How did you come to work at the Embassy?
I joined the Embassy in 2008. Prior, I had just completed my BA in Social work and Sociology at the University of Nairobi and was doing community work with NGO’s. Having seen the situation on the ground i.e. the frustration of working without funding, I wanted to work with a body that would be able to fund NGO’S . That is when I saw an opening at the Korean Embassy and applied.
What is your role as the secretary to the Ambassador?
My role is quite diverse; first, I am in charge of the Embassy’s Public relations. I handle official communication to the various Foreign Affairs Ministries accredited to the Embassy, which aside from Kenya include: Mauritius, Somalia and Comoros. The Ambassador in Kenya is extraordinaire a.l.aplenipotentiary, which means he is an ambassador based in one country but also serves all the other countries accredited to the embassy.
I facilitate communication from the Kenyan Embassy in Korea to diplomats. The diplomats then forward it to me, to which I send to the various ministries, International Organizations and other Embassies. Lastly I do secretarial work such as writing the Ambassador’s speeches and articles, knowing his schedule etc.
How has your journey been at the Korean Embassy
I have worked at the Embassy for 9 years and will celebrate my 10th anniversary this coming November. When I first came here I did VAT exemptions and daily reports about Kenya and the other countries accredited to the Embassy. Through the years I’ve risen to where I am, having served 4 ambassadors. I find joy in doing my work every day.
Is Korean Language the primary mode of communication at the Embassy
No. Operations are carried out in English. Any communication from Korea goes through the diplomats first, who then translate from Korean to English. They then forward it to me for distribution.
In that regard, do you know how to speak Korean Language
I have been studying Korean for a long time. At the Embassy there is a program tailor made for employees. However it runs during specified times and by the time we pick up with classes again it is hard to keep up. I have therefore been limited to basics.
Having worked at the Embassy for many years, has it impacted your life in any way?
Yes. I have learnt a couple of skills such as diligence and hard work. I have learnt to work fast and not take any short cuts. My sense of patriotism has also been reinforced having seen the way Koreans love their country. I also managed to do my Masters in International Relations.
At such a position, what is your greatest achievement at the Embassy?
Working on the establishment of Korean Studies Department at the University of Nairobi. During Ambassador H.E. Chan Woo Kim’s time, there was a program invitation to give funding to any Sub-Saharan Higher learning institution towards starting a Korean Studies center. I was asked to give my opinion and suggested the University of Nairobi. I was picked to handle the matter. After consulting with UoN, I sent the application to Korean Foundation. To cut the long story short, the department is up and running.
Korean companies/organizations tend to have ‘hweishik’ (dinning out with company members). Does the same happen at the Korean Embassy, and what is your favorite Korean Cuisine?
Yes, we usually eat Korean cuisine together as employees. Sometimes we do it at the Ambassador’s residence. My favorite food is ‘Bulgogi’ and ‘Bibimbap.’
Last year you went to Korea courtesy of the Embassy, tell me about it
I was honored by the Embassy with a chance to go visit Korea on a program that awards long-term serving employees. Together with other employees from different countries we went to various cities including Seoul. During the stay, we visited a number of cultural heritage sites and saw beautiful landmarks such as the Seoul Tower.
Having seen Korea first hand, what can you say about Korean Culture
It was great to experience their culture first hand. What fascinated me was one could leave their belonging anywhere and it could not be stolen. Koreans are well organized. I believe they took conscious steps to get where they are.
I saw a quote at the forefront of POSCO (Pohang Steel Co.) Company in Ulsan that I loved. It stated, ‘Limited resources but unlimited creativity.’ This is something we need to pick up as Kenyans.
We speak to the Chairperson of the Korea Community Association in Kenya.
Kindly introduce yourself.
My name is Mr. Kang SoonKyu and I am the current Chairperson of the Korea Community in Kenya. I came to Kenya with my family in 1994 after 2 years of working in Cameroon. Arriving in Kenya, I was quite surprised at what I observed. The climate, the development of cities and the well-built infrastructure were good compared to West Africa.
My company is Hankang Enterprises LTD. We deal with importation of Korean car parts.
I have served as the chairman of Korean community in Kenya for the last two years and will continue to serve for two more years.
Tell us a little about Korean Community in Kenya. When was it formed, and what are some of its key responsibilities.
Korean community in Kenya was founded in 1985. The purpose is to promote the development and welfare of Korean society through the ties and unity of Koreans in Kenya and also contribute to the development and friendship between Korea and Kenya.
How are you able to maintain that sense of togetherness as a community of Koreans? Do you have events where you meet or activities that you do together?
For the last two years, we have had singing and athletics contests for Koreans. We have also made a Korean address & telephone book to help us contact each other and interact more easily.
Sometime back, we help a photography contest and the winning picture was published in our calendars. A calligraphy contest was organized by the King Sejong institute at Kenyatta University that we had sponsored. Apart from interacting amongst ourselves in Kenya we also believe in giving back to the community we live in. For that reason we have sponsored the medical treatment of six disabled Kenyans are glad that we brought back some hope and joy into their lives.
What kind of work are most Koreans in Kenya doing?
There are about 1,300 Korean residents in Kenya, 60% of which work with missionaries & NGO’s. The rest are working in companies such as LG electronics, Samsung electronics, Sana industries (wigs), Solpia Kenya (wigs), other trading companies as well as travel agencies, restaurants, and construction companies. The missionaries and NGO’s are active in education, health care, agriculture, orphans care and many other fields.
What do you love about Kenya, and by large, what do you think most Koreans love about Kenya?
If you ask Koreans what they like about Kenya, the first answer would be the climate. The atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed unlike Korea where everyone is always in a hurry. The mix of different cultures also makes it a great environment for their children to study in. This allows them to not only master foreign languages but to also live with people from other cultures and different traditions, making them all rounded.
Do you enjoy taking Kenyan food?
I mainly eat Korean food but I indulge in Kenyan food from time to time. I usually eat ugali, managu, githeri but my favorite is nyamachoma with kachumbari.
As a group, how do you relate with the Korean Embassy in Kenya. Have they been supportive?
The Korean embassy in Kenya is cooperative and we have had good relations. They work hard to make things more safe and convenient for us. The Korean Ambassador to Kenya Hon. Kwon Young Dae also takes part in various activities with our community, aside from his diplomatic duties.
What is your dream of the Korea Community in Kenya? Also, what do you hope for the future of Korea-Kenya relations?
Korea and Kenya are steadily developing a strong relationship in diplomacy, economics and culture which I believe will continue to grow in future. To accelerate the growth, we hope to restart the direct flights that had been stopped between Korea and Kenya. I hope Koreans will settle here and contribute to the development of Kenya and Korea.