‘Now is the time for Koreans to unlock potential in Africa’

Bomi Yoon

Landry Signe, a senior fellow of Global Economy and Development at Brookings Institution, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Korea-Africa Foundation

6th Seoul Dialogue on Africa explores co-prosperity between Korea and Africa

By Lee Hyo-jin

For many Koreans, Africa may seem like a distant continent.

But Landry Signe, a senior fellow of Global Economy and Development at Brookings Institution, thinks that will change soon. The Cameroon-born scholar, who has keen interest in Korea’s history of rapid economic growth, says now is the time for young Koreans to actively explore opportunities in Africa’s fast-developing economy.

“In most sectors, African countries can collectively outperform all other developing economies in terms of growth. So this is an incredibly exciting time to engage with Africa and strengthen Africa-Korea ties,” Signe said during an interview with The Korea Times in Seoul, Wednesday, which took place during his attendance at the 6th Seoul Dialogue on Africa.

The dialogue, co-hosted by the Korea-Africa Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is an annual international conference seeking to gather policy suggestions toward building a strategic partnership between Korea and Africa.

This year’s event, held under the main theme “Korea-Africa partnership for sustainable peace and prosperity,” included discussions on peace and security in Africa and ways to solidify partnership between the two sides.

Participants of the 6th Seoul Dialogue on Africa pose at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Korea-Africa Foundation

“And it’s even better for the young people. Things are at the beginning now, so you can really diversify and further structure partnerships,” Signe continued.

“In other regions which you (Korea) have had relationships for a while, there are early adopters who are dominating the markets. But in the case of Africa, any young Korean could become the biggest player within the next decade.

“You just have to unlock the potential.”

Signe is a world-renowned futurist who has accumulated over two decades of experience at leading global institutions such as Thunderbird School of Global Management, the Brookings Institution, Stanford University and the University of Oxford.

By 2030, the combined consumer and business spending in the African continent will exceed $6.7 trillion, and the figure will reach $16 trillion by 2050, Signe said. Plus, African countries’ growing influence in the international community should not be overlooked as they account for 28 percent of U.N. member states.

Given its abundant resources and strategic location, the continent is increasingly becoming a stage where major powers – China, the United States and Russia – vie for influence.

Although Korea is a latecomer to the continent, Signe said the doors are wide open for the Asian nation.

“We love Korea. That is the difference. We have not had the type of relation with Korea that we have had with other countries,” he said, in response to a query whether Korea will be able to forge stronger ties with African countries where China already plays a critical role.

“Because China became the first trading partner, the first investor in infrastructure, people usually think that the majority of African countries prefer China. But it is not the case,” he said. “Korea has a strong position for many reasons.”

Signe commented that Korea and Africa can pursue mutual benefits by cooperating on emerging technologies such as digital transformation, as well as construction and education where Korea is traditionally strong.

The Korean government, for its part, views Africa as a land of new opportunities. While discussions are underway about signing a Korea-Africa free trade agreement, Korea will invite the leaders of at least 20 African nations for an inaugural Korea-Africa summit in Korea in June 2024.

Along with such government-level efforts, Signe also stressed the need for more people-to-people exchanges.

“Young people are the future. They will follow the footsteps laid by the leadership. So that’s why I think this is really important that engagements should involve not just high-level conversations, but also young people like students and entrepreneurs,” he said.



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