With such an easy smile and warm personality, Mr. Juma comes across as a person who can get along with anyone. Beneath that accommodating demeanor sits a large heart that has enough room for everyone. It is no doubt he is the Kenya Country Director of the Global Peace Foundation, an organization that prides in promoting innovative, values-based approach to peacebuilding across the globe.
Alongside his family –the wife and two kids, Henry and Regina, Korea holds a special place in his heart. Bring up a conversation on Korean peninsula and Juma will engage you with refined alacrity. He listens to Psy and SHINee and previously enjoyed the Korean zombie apocalypse blockbuster ‘Train to Busan’. Once in a while he will nip into a Korean restaurant for a plate of samgyeopsal and Bulgogi. He admires their culture from the work ethic, their level of discipline, filial piety and the respect they have for superiors. “Surprisingly, a Korean boss can berate you but at the end of the day, he/she will buy you a drink and you will get along. Koreans don’t hold grudges,” he adds.
How It all Started
It falls back to 1995 when he made a Korean friend while on tour in Japan who would later invite him to Korea. At that time he was a Business Administration student at Kenya Polytechnic (now Technical University of Kenya). Visiting his new Korean friend in 1997, he would end up staying for a year, working in MOKPO as a welder at a ship-building company while privately tutoring English. It is during this period that he was first immersed into Korean culture, learning the language basics and local cultural practices; traits that served to his favor when he was easily hand picked for a job at KOTRA Nairobi office some few years later.
Meeting a potential Korean investor to Kenya changed Juma’s fate. He went to Manila, Philippines to learn about car importation business, only to be posted to Germany where he worked and enrolled for East Asian studies at Duisberg university. Six months into it, he would then travel to Kenya to apply for a visa but never returned after losing his documents at the airport. However, while mooching about the city he bumped into Kotra-Nairobi offices. From here his life took a different turn.
Working At KOTRA
“Being considered for a volunteer position at Kotra worked on a whim. I walked into the then director’s office, Mr. Won Sok Yun (now the Vice President of KOTRA), and he was way impressed that I could speak Korean and exercise a few cultural practices like bowing to seniors.’ ….’I caught wind of this coming business delegation at Safari Park hotel and was invited to volunteer for a few days.’ As we know now, the few days translated to 11 years. That was in 2000. He rose from that volunteer position to an intern, transitioned to a trade officer and then ended up as an Assistant Manager in charge of Trade and Investment promotion, a position he would hold until his last days at Kotra.
“Working at KOTRA was one of those formative periods in my career if I can look back. I had learnt about the Korean culture and could speak basic Korean. It was therefore easy to work with Koreans.’…’The fact that I loved my job was really instrumental. I never left the office at 5. I could leave around 8 or 9 at night, and I loved it.’ Juma zealously worked to build Korea’s economic diplomatic foray into the East African region. He learnt and exercised the rigors of economic diplomacy. His fruits would come to bear when the trade imports from Korea to Kenya rose during the peak of his tenure. As if that was not enough to enhance his diplomacy skills he enrolled for international relations at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi, where he did a thesis entitled “Kenya’s Foreign Policy Shift from Political to Economic Diplomacy” in which he gave policy recommendations that led to the transformation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to what is now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2011, he would hung his boots at Kotra for another venture. But his love for Korea never fizzled out.
Dream For The Unification of Korea
Juma has been one of those consistent voices vouching for the re-unification of the Korean Peninsula. ‘A united Korea will be one of the strongest economies, surpassing the likes of Japan and China.’ ‘Picture the unexploited human resources in North Korea, the labor force from the North (who are educated in their own right), the ambitious South Korea and the opportunity to do more investments in the North. That gets to tell you something..” He recommends the book The Korean Dream by Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, which offers a more authoritative and compelling argument for a united Korea.
Alongside his boss, the Founder and Chairman of the Global Peace Foundation, the mentioned Dr. Moon , and the entire GPF team they organised a campaign in Manilla inviting Korean pop singers to create awareness of this unification call. In 2015, he travelled to Seoul with the NASA leader Raila Odinga, accompanied by the Kisii Governor Mr Evans Ongwae and Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok. It was one of the platforms he used to rally the re-unification whilst convincing the Kenyan leaders to borrow from the Korean model of development. They visited Saemaul Undong centre and held meetings with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) officials and Korea International Trade Association President.
He labels the separation between the two Koreas as a global humanitarian issue that needs the approach that solved apartheid in S. Africa. Despite having hope, he is saddened by the thought that the world cares little.
Enrolling For Korean Studies
In 2013, the University of Nairobi established a Korean Studies center with the support of the Korean Foundation and the Academy of Korean Studies. It was not an afterthought for Juma despite being accomplished. Right away he enrolled for a BA degree in Korean Studies.’I didn’t enroll in order to better my chances of getting a job,’ he notes with a stiffled laugh.’I did it for the love of Korea. I wanted to sharpen my Korean language speaking skills and be an expert in this area,’ he adds. The journey , however, has not been easy. As an Executive Director he has alot on his plate. Additionally, he has a family to tend to. All those commitments leave him with little time to study. However, he is quick to appreciate his supportive Korean language lecturer Prof Yuhjin Park. ‘She’s very understanding and practical.’
Asked about the current relations between Korea and Kenya, Mr.Juma lowers his head and goes into reflective mood. He is dissappointed about the infiltration of cheap Chinese products in the Kenyan market when you have Korean products that are of good quality. He mentions the current Standard Gauge Railway project (SGR) that was to be won by KORAIL (Korea Railroad Corporation) but ended up with the Chinese. He is certain that KORAIL would have done a good job. He hopes that engagements between Korea and Kenya grow. ”You’re better off partnering with Koreans. Besides making profit, they will educate you,’ he notes.
‘With your widened experience in diplomacy, would you consider going for an Ambassador position sometime in future?’ I implore.”Why not? “he responds with a chuckle. As it looks, he still burns with ambition.