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We’re working to change negative perception of Nigeria in Korea – KAF president

Ambassador Lyeo Woon-Ki is the President of Korea-Africa Foundation (KAF). In this interview, he speaks about the impact of the foundation in boosting the existing…

Ambassador Lyeo Woon-Ki is the President of Korea-Africa Foundation (KAF). In this interview, he speaks about the impact of the foundation in boosting the existing cultural and economic relationship between Nigeria and Korea, and the engagement with Nigerian defence to develop a strong military cooperation.


Can you tell us a bit about the activities of the Korea-Africa foundation?

The Korea-Africa Foundation (KAF) was established in June 2018 as an affiliation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea, with the mission of promoting genuine partnership with the African continent in political, economic, cultural, academic and other various areas.

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By pursuing comprehensive research and fostering professionals on Africa, KAF aims to serve as a platform for collaboration between the private and public sectors, strengthen exchange and cooperation with African countries and enhance mutual understanding so that Korean youth, businesses and organizations can explore a new dimension of possibilities together with the African continent that is dynamically unfolding its boundless potential.

What is the level of collaboration between Nigeria and Korea as far as education is concerned, especially now that ASUU strike lingers; putting public universities at a disadvantage?

We are much focused on the young generation. One of our functions is to promote Africa in Korea, so, we have programmes for young supporters to KAF, which means we recruit young Nigerian and African citizens in Korea who are working and studying. And we also work together with the students to promote Africa in Korea. 

They are on our blog and website and from time to time, we have workshops together and some seminars between Korean young people and African young people.

Regarding the education exchange on the university education, actually we are not the right organisation for this. We just promote African contents in Korea to educate the young people to have the right perception and impression about Africa. 

There are concerns in Nigeria that Korean government doesn’t seems to give Nigerians access to business, education and others, how do you intend to improve on this?

Actually, Nigeria is our largest trading partner in Africa as a whole and also the largest economy in Africa. So, we know that Nigeria is very important to us because it’s the economic engine of the future. 

But, still the public perception about Nigeria is not positive. So, the Korean business and Korean people are very much hesitant to come to Nigeria and open some business in Nigeria. 

We are now trying to let them know the right things about Nigeria, and our embassy in Nigeria is also working in this direction. I think it will be much better in future. So, we work harder and your embassy is also working hard in this aspect. 

There are concerns about the decline in volume in trade between Nigeria and Korea, what are you doing differently to boost it?

That’s true, within the last pandemic period, the whole world economy faced decrease and was trapped in difficulties. So, naturally our bilateral trade decreased a lot. 

But, as the pandemic issue subsided, now is time to restart our trades and for this we are seriously taking the business area to boost our economic and business relationship with Africa. 

Of course, with this visit to Nigeria, which is the first, I can have some networks and friends in the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA). It’ll be a very good start to increase and encourage business relationships with Nigeria.

Next month, there will be a business forum in Korea and a lot of people from Nigeria will be joining in this forum, which is a very good start after the pandemic period to encourage our businesses. 

When you look at Korea in the last few decades, it has developed very strong military service, and Nigeria is currently battling with insecurity. In what area can Korea be of help to Nigeria?

During this visit, I met with some people from the defence industry in Nigeria and we also discussed the possibility of collaboration. 

So, we are still in the negotiation process to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian government.

South Korea has a strong military power. In the last 40-50 years, we have developed a lot in military technologies. So now, South Korea is one of the best and strongest military powers to respond to security threats from North Korea. 

Of course, as you have seen in the news that South Korea exports a lot of armament and military equipment and also, I got to know that Nigeria has a very good defense industry today. Through the discussion with your people, I realized that Nigeria was trying to develop military equipment because you are also at war with Boko Haram and ISIS in the northern part, so it’s very important. 

There are few countries still at war. Nigeria is one of them and South Korea is also one of them, and of course America is always carrying out some war in some parts of the world. So, those countries are very strong in military power. 

You should maintain your military forces and also need to develop technologies, otherwise they cannot keep peace and security.  

You mentioned that Nigeria had taken over from South Africa as your biggest trade partner, what is the figure of volume of the trade now between Nigeria and South Korea?

Trade volume as of last year was at $2bn, and then first half of this year it is about $1.1bn, which is a 20 percent increase in the first half of this year. 

What is the percentage, is it in deficit to Nigeria?

More or less balanced.  

Can you tell us the high impact achievements of KAF since its inception; what can you say are your success stories in facilitating Korea/Africa relations?

As I said, our organization is on the start; we started in 2018 and in the last three years, it’s very difficult to have activities. We mostly host online seminars and forums but now, we are trying to have our activities offline. That’s why I started my visit to African countries. 

Last year, we hosted the Korea/Africa Forum which coincided with the Korea/Africa Business Forum. We planned a very big event last year but unfortunately, the pandemic issue was raised again so they postponed it to March this year. 

In a specific way, the Korean embassy in Nigeria has organised a youth programme, which invited Nigerian high school students. We took them to Lagos where they spent several days visiting Korean companies. 

They visited Korean companies like Samsung and LG, then all Korean companies explained what they were doing. So, we are working to encourage business minds to young Nigerians. 

We funded their travel cost from Abuja to Lagos and then we paid their accommodation in Lagos for the whole programme.  

This year, we are replicating the same programme, and it’s funded by the KAF. Again, we are going to invite young Nigerian people in the same way so as to understand more about what we are doing as an embassy.

We will give them a briefing on what our embassy is doing and then we will also take them to visit Lagos. These are some of the concrete programmes we are doing to help them become future Nigerian business leaders. 

In your tour to these African countries, what feedback are you getting in terms of the future of Korea/Africa relations?

I visited South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. Ghana was a very familiar country to me because I was an ambassador to Ghana before. But for South Africa and Nigeria, it’s my first official visit so I got very different impression and ideas from what I have before.

Frankly speaking, South Korean people don’t have a good impression about Nigeria. Most people think that Nigeria is a very difficult and very hot place to live. But, when you visit Nigeria and meet real Nigerians, you will have a different impression.

So, this visit is very significant for me, and during my discussion and meeting with Nigerian people, I realized that Nigeria is really a big country with a lot of opportunities in terms of cooperation.