By Biruktayet Bihon
September 17, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Ethiopia and South Korea have experienced a very long and special relationship. The dispatch of Kagnew Battalion to South Korea during the Korean War is considered to be the beginning of a stronger link between Ethiopia and South Korea.
To South Korean people, Ethiopia is more than just a friendly country. The historical support Ethiopia provided to the country showed Ethiopia's firm commitment to the strong ties with the Far East Asian nation.
Based on this historical bond, the bilateral relationship between two countries has gradually developed into cooperation that now covers economic, social and cultural areas.
In an exclusive interview with Ezega News, the 18th South Korean Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to AU and UNECA, Mr. Hoonmin Lim talked about the Ethio-South Korean relationship.
Ambassador Hoonmin Lim made his initial remark through praising the unforgettable historical bravery the Kagnew Battalion showed during the Korean war seven decades ago.
According to the Ambassador, the special relationship between two countries has been steadily developing beginning from this historical moment. The current bilateral relationship is more active than ever in many areas such as high-level exchanges in development cooperation.
However, the ambassador also mentioned that, given the potential of bilateral ties, there is still plenty of room for further development in Ethio-South Korean relations. He emphasized that the relationship between two countries should develop into a future-oriented and mutually beneficial one.
‘In order to develop Ethio-South Korean relations in a more comprehensive and strategic partnership, more efforts are needed to further strengthen cooperation in various field such as trade, investment, science, technology and culture, as well as the exchange of business in the private sector,’ Ambassador added.
Regarding people-to-people relations, the Ambassador of South Korea reflected his country’s active engagement with Ethiopia in this area, with focus in youth development areas.
Ambassador Lim introduced cultural exchange programs including the annual “Korean Cultural Week Event” organized periodically by Korean Embassy in order to enhance mutual understanding between the two people.
‘In order to promote an institutional capacity, Ethiopian Ministry of Culture is also working on a comprehensive cooperation framework including regular exchange program with its South Korean counterpart,’ he said. The ambassador expects possible agreement in this area between two sides will be reached soon.
In the area of economic cooperation, the Ambassador said the connectivity between the two countries lags compared to the two countries mutual engagement in other sectors.
While expressing his expectation for a better business environment in Ethiopia, he said ‘as Ambassador, I will do my best to strengthen the economic cooperation between two countries.’
The Ambassador explained his country’s effort to build stronger economic cooperation with Ethiopia. According to him, the South Korean Embassy has been inviting Korean investors to explore opportunities in Ethiopia, particularly in areas such as textile and garment, construction, leather processing, innovative manufacturing and environment technologies.
‘In order to provide an institutional framework for further investments, South Korea is consulting with the Ethiopian Investment Commission to reach a consensus for investment promotion and protection agreement,’ ambassador added.
Ambassador Lim also talked about the special event of the recent official visit of the Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to Seoul. Evaluating the visit as a great success, the ambassador said. ‘It was the first African Leader’s official visit to South Korea since the inauguration of the new leadership in Korea three years ago, and this shows how much the South Korean government values the relationship with Ethiopia.”
‘The visit solidified the existing relations between two countries and provided an opportunity for both leaders to reaffirm their willingness to further develop the current relationship into a more comprehensive and future-oriented one,’ he said.
Two leaders discussed specific means and ways to develop cooperation frameworks in various fields such as trade, investment, development cooperation, science and technology, and human exchange. The establishment of Ministerial Joint Commission is noteworthy in this regard.
‘The Prime Minister also covered the agenda of South Korean investment expansion with a series of meetings with CEOs of major Korean companies,’ the ambassador added.
The Ambassador also explained the active South Korea's development cooperation to Ethiopia. He indicated about the highest amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) his country is providing to Ethiopia among other African countries.
‘Continuous promotion of ODA to Ethiopia is another major task. South Korea's ODA to Ethiopia is already the highest in Africa, and Korea will further expand its support through its assistance framework,’ he noted.
The Korean ODA to Ethiopia is based on either grant through KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency) and other development agencies, or soft loan based on EDCF (Economic Development Cooperation Fund) through the Korean Exim Bank.
Since its establishment in 1991, KOICA has been actively engaged in various development works in Ethiopia. It opened the Country Office in Ethiopia in 1995 for the first time in Africa. Since then, KOICA has been carrying out a variety of cooperation projects. Recently, areas such as water management and health, rural development, transportation and education have been selected as key cooperation areas for intensive support.
‘Since 1991, KOICA has provided 168 million USD for 26 different projects implemented in Ethiopia, and invited 2,400 Ethiopian trainees to Korea, and dispatched 1,400 Korean volunteers to Ethiopia,’ Ambassador Lim stressed.
‘The projects are implemented in every corner of Ethiopia. To mention some, a new TVET school has been constructed in Mekele, while other TVET schools, including LG-KOICA Hope, have been been operating in Addis Ababa for a long time. A comprehensive New Village (Saemaeul) Movement Project is under implementation in Amhara region.’
Korea has also pledged a total amount of some 800 million USD since 2015. The two countries have recently signed a loan agreement of 86 million USD to fund the construction of center of excellence at Adama Science and Technology University.
Mr. Lim also indicated about his Country’s interest in diversifying its foreign relation with ever-growing continental Africa links through the African Union (AU). The Korea-Africa Forum established 2006 aims at facilitating the rapid growth of relation between Korea and African countries through the AU. And the forum has been held four times so far.
Korea-Africa Cooperation Framework which was signed 2016 in the Forum serves as the framework for defining the principles and areas of cooperation between Korea and the AU.
Further elaborating the link with Africa, Ambassador Lim said ‘Various cooperation projects are underway through the Korea-AU Cooperation Fund and Korea has also contributed total 10 million USD to the AU Peace Fund. The Korea-AU Cooperation Fund has been used in the implementation of the projects agreed upon in the Korea-Africa Cooperation Framework. With its contribution to the AU Peace Fund, Korea has established a Level-II hospital facility in Gao, Mali, and is making a significant contribution to Women, Peace and Security (WPS) sector as well.’
As the Ambassador explained, the inauguration of Korean-African Foundation last year as an organ of the South Korean Foreign Ministry is an important achievement for South Korean diplomacy in Africa. ‘The expanding role of the Foundation would allow various activities to be done and support to be given to the continent,’ he added.
'Recently, South Korea’s foreign minister made her first official visit to African countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa, and it showed the growing interest of South Korea to expanding its roots in the Continent,’ Ambassador Lim said.
Concluding his remarks, Mr. Lim reaffirmed his country’s commitment to work with Ethiopia as a priority partner and continue to be a true friend of Ethiopia during the country’s journey toward realization of its development plans.
Biruktayet Bihon is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. She can be reached through this form.
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