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Korea Aid: How Seoul is Increasing its Connections in Africa

KEI Communications Director Jenna Gibson, host of Korean Kontext, recently interviewed Valerie Dabady Liverani, manager of the Resource Mobilization and External Finance Department at the African Development Bank. After President Park Geun Hye made the first visit by a Korean president to the African Union this spring, South Korea is increasing its efforts to connect with the continent. With this in mind, Gibson and Dabady Liverani discussed Korea’s development aid to Africa, trends in the aid sphere, and what more Korea can do to collaborate with Africa in the future. The following is a partial transcript of that conversation. The rest of the conversation can be found at

Jenna Gibson: To get us started off, South Korea joined the African Development Bank in 1980, and since then they have contributed millions of dollars to a variety of efforts, including knowledge sharing, education, infrastructure projects and more. Could you give our listeners maybe a brief background of Korea’s cooperation with the Bank since it joined?

Valerie Dabady Liverani: Sure. By way of background, Jenna, Korea joined the Africa bank in 1980 and so they’ve been a longstanding partner of the institution. The most recent contribution that they made was to the African development fund back in 2013, where they made a pledge of about $81 million dollars. We would say that Korea is a big friend to the African Development Bank; they are one of the few bilateral donors to have a cooperation framework something called the KOAFEC, Korea Africa Economic Cooperation Framework, which was created back in 2006. It provides if you will for a context for aid to Africa and also for collaboration with the African development bank. The first meeting was a ministerial level meeting held in 2006 and it has been held biannually in Seoul since then, with the exception of 2014 when the Ebola crisis made planning for the event a bit difficult. We’re quite excited in fact planning out the next KOAFEC meeting which will be held October 2016 in Seoul, and preparations are in high gear.

Korea has one of the most important trust funds with the institution, [as well as] a co-financing framework. The difference is that co-financing provides support to projects, and the trust funds provide grants in 6 priority areas: infrastructure, green growth, knowledge sharing, human resource development, ICT, and agricultural and rural development. Also in terms of collaboration I think what doesn’t get talked about perhaps as much as financing, but which is equally important, is exchange of staff. Currently we have about 12 Korean staff working at the bank. Recently someone from KEXIM, the export bank of Korea joined us – about two or so months ago. We’re quite happy in terms of the collaboration, and we feel there is a lot we can learn from a country like Korea in terms of its own growth trajectory; Korea was once a recipient of aid and is now a provider of aid.

Jenna Gibson: You mentioned a lot of these really important key areas including infrastructure, ICT, green growth…so within those, are there any programs or projects that Korea tends to gravitate towards? What, on the ground, do these projects look like?

Valerie Dabady Liverani: So in infrastructure for example, Korea has financed both the hard and the soft parts of infrastructure In terms of the soft parts they have, for example through the trust fund, improved the private sector regulatory and business climate in East Africa. On the infrastructure side they have financed some roads also in East Africa. On the knowledge side, which I think is also one of the more important components of the collaboration, there is a strong link between our econ department and certain Korea institutes such as the Korea International Economics Policy Institute – that’s a mouthful! – and essentially what that really tries to do is to learn from the lessons of Korea’s own economic development and essentially try to see what lessons we can learn from that. Finally, Korea has generously offered scholarships at the Korea Development Institute to Africa Development Bank Staff.

Jenna Gibson: That’s great to hear – a way of investing in the human resources and creating long-term growth…

Valerie Dabady Liverani: Exactly. Which I think one needs to really have if you want to talk about development. I think ultimately development is a very big word, and a very vague word. I think that in that, one must also focus on the hard and the soft and honestly one needs to be able to treat one’s neighbors, one needs to provide internet services and reliable energy and everything else. You also need to have a scope in your workforce in order to handle development from manual labor to things that require a bit more specialization. All those things count very much.

Jenna Gibson: Right, absolutely. Do you also see any particular openings for future cooperation and future projects where Korea could be helpful?

Valerie Dabady Liverani: I do indeed. You’ve mentioned the first visit by the Korean president recently, and I think you know we have a fairly new President, Akinwumi Adesina, who came in last year in September. I think he was able to make a trip out to Korea back in March. I think it was one of the first trips he made and I think it’s important in that it shows the value that he has for that particular relationship. During that trip back in March he was able to set out what we call the “high fives”, which is essentially the areas in which the bank is going to focus on. Those areas are energy, to light up and power Africa; agriculture, which is to feed Africa; to industrialize, which is to lead to better trade for Africa; it’s to innervate Africa; and finally it’s to improve the lives of Africans. These are what we call the “high-fives” and for us we see an opportunity for Korea to support each one of these pillars. But if I had to pick maybe two in which we see Korea being strongest, it would be industrialize Africa in terms of trade and lighten up Africa in terms of energy. I think industrialization is one of the areas where Korea has the most lessons to teach Africa, since its own growth was based on industrialization.

Jenna Gibson: One project that caught my attention, it’s not through the AfDB but is quite interesting – it’s called Korea Aid.  It’s basically a mobile clinic that promotes maternal health services, helps educate people on hygiene and nutrition, and more. Its pilot program at the moment that they started in Kenya and eventually hope to expand. The interesting element to me is that it also includes a cultural component. In these mobile clinics there is a K-meal truck to provide Korean-inspired dishes, and it also includes a K-culture vehicle that will introduce elements of Korean pop culture including music and TV programs. So, I’m very curious from the perspective of someone working on development, how do you see this intersection between aid and cultural promotion? How do you think these things will work together?

Valerie Dabady Liverani: I think actually it’s a very good idea to combine the two things, because aid sometimes happens at levels where the ordinary person maybe doesn’t have exposure to it, at least to the human side. If you build a road for example that’s obviously a good thing, but you maybe may not know who is behind this particular road, who financed it, who worked on it. I think once you put together some sort of cultural exchange you put a face to a donor, and I think whenever you do that one of the benefits will be that you learn more about a particular culture. You know sort of what the people eat, what they appreciate on television. Obviously culture is something that is shared very quickly these days. I’m trying to remember the incredibly popular pop song that my 14 year old son was singing two years or so ago – Gangnam Style! – you know, one does get snippets of culture and things like that but I think what’s important in what you’re mentioning is that one gets to choose essentially what you put out. I see this may have an audience that may be younger than your traditional segment of society whether or not that’s people working at ministries or what have you, you may reach an audience that is younger and receives information in a different way.

Jenna Gibson: I think that’s a great way to end on a forward-looking note, but before we go is there anything that you think would be important for our listeners to know about Korea’s work with the AfDB and with the African continent?

Valerie Dabady Liverani: I think that I would probably want to add is that the continent had a history back when it was still the axis between America and Russia, the sort of two poles. And obviously we see that as the cold war fell away, much more interest developed in other development poles that are interested in the continent. Today, for example, the Indian president is visiting the Ivory Coast, the Exim Bank is opening an office in Cote d’Ivoire. You’ve got lots of other players – Korea, India, China are all there as well – and Turkey is a big player too. I think it’s important at this level that those that want to participate in the sphere of development on the continent also need to coordinate between themselves. I’m still somewhat biased but I still believe that the multilateral development bank context is the best context for aid to flow through. There will always be room and space for bilateral channels, I don’t think anyone is saying that UK and France and the like will close their embassies, but I’m simply saying in terms of wanting to have the best effect for development, it’s the multilateral development channel that one should go through.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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One Response to “Korea Aid: How Seoul is Increasing its Connections in Africa”


  1. […] including a cooperation framework called the Korea Africa Economic Cooperation Framework (KOAFEC), which provides aid to Africa and chances to collaborate with the African Development Bank. The […]

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