A Land They Never Knew Properly: South Korea’s Need To Understand Africa

By | December 14, 2022 | No Comments

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo recently traveled to Ghana, the first such visit for a South Korean prime minister despite over four decades of diplomatic ties between Accra and Seoul. The prime minister’s visit to Ghana came shortly after ROK president Yook Suk Yeol met with Kenya’s leader William Ruto in Seoul. With the Yoon administration showing a decided interest toward the vast African continent as both a source of economic partnership as well as a continent with like-minded liberal democracies, one South Korean academic urges his fellow citizens to take time to better understand Africa, first and foremost by not thinking of “Africa” as a single unit, while pointing to the vast potential to be had from shoring up operation between Seoul and various governments on the continent.  


Between 55 Countries, the Africa We Should Know[1]

Africa – why now? How much do we know about Africa?

South Korea’s soccer team lost to Ghana 3-2 in the World Cup preliminary round. Ghana is located in West Africa and its population is around 30 million people, with a surface area twice as big as that of the ROK. Ghana’s system of government is, like ours, a presidential system with two main parties that compete for political power in a country that is a comparatively stable democracy. Soccer is the most popular sport in Africa, and Ghana’s national soccer team is nicknamed the “Black Stars”. There is even a black star in the middle of Ghana’s flag. Even though there was no star player on Ghana’s national team quite like Korea’s Son Heung-min, the team is mostly composed of fairly strong members from Europe’s top leagues. Here, players with multiple citizenships who chose Ghana’s team contributed greatly. South Korea’s ability to enter the round of 16 was thanks to its defeat of Portugal 2-1 and Ghana’s win over Uruguay 2 to 0.  Even when the South Korean team lost, Ghana supporters cheered “Korea! Korea!”. South Korea and Ghana grew one step closer during this World Cup.

Africa is comprised of 55 countries. Africa’s geographic expanse is actually a lot bigger than we imagine. The continent’s territory is so vast that it could include not only the US, China India, Japan and Eastern Europe, but the major countries of Western Europe as well.

All to easily we think of Africa as a monolith, yet Africans themselves divide the continent into five regions – the east, the west, the south, the center and the north. Aside from Ghana, among the 32 countries that qualified for this year’s World Cup include Africa countries such as Senegal and Cameroon in West Africa and Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Although the countries of North Africa are part of the African continent, the inhabitants of North Africa tend to identify culturally more with the Arab World. Naturally, when one thinks of Africa, one tends to think of primarily of the Black inhabitants of the continent.

Africa covers the second-largest geographic area of the world after Asia, but even so, it contains 15% of the world’s population, around 1.3 billion people. More than 100 million people inhabit three countries alone – Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt. There are around 20 countries with populations of less than 10 million people. Many countries including South Korea are facing the problems of population aging and population decline, but Africa is the continent with the youngest population. Around 60% of the population is under the age of 25, and is experiencing the highest population growth. Africa is expected to contain 25% of the world’s population by 2050.

In January 2021 the world’s biggest free-trade area, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was launched. The AfCFTA covers a population of 1.3 billion people, with a combined economic prowess of 3.4 trillion dollars (about 4,420 trillion won), the biggest free-trade area in scale since the launch of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Experts anticipate that by 2040, the AfCFTA will have a combined economic power worth 70 billion dollars. In particular, Africa possesses 30% of the world’s mineral natural resources, including the Congo tropical rainforest, the biggest in the world after the Amazon. This potential is what has the world turning its eyes toward Africa. In order for our government to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with Africa, the ROK is preparing to hold the “Korea-Africa Special Summit” in 2024.


Original article by Wonbin Cho, Sungkyunkwan University. Translated by Anthony V. Rinna.  


[1] Source: “Between 55 Countries, the Africa We Should Know (55개 나라의 하모니, 우리가 알아야 할 아프리카)”, Hankook Ilbo, December 13, 2022 https://m.hankookilbo.com/News/Read/A2022121310200001598


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