Re-Inventing Africa’s Development - Linking Africa to the Korean Development Model

Written by Jong Dae-Park

A book review by K Bhana


Shifting paradigms is easy; it’s letting go of poor post-colonial policies, its hanging on to outdated development and aid programs and perpetuating the victim syndrome that is the main mind-set challenge facing the African continent.

Ambassador Jong-Dae Park, South Korea’s Ambassador to South Africa whose encounter with Africa began in 1973 when he landed in East Africa at the age of 13.”I was charmed by the unexpected. My father, who was a diplomat at the time, was posted to Uganda and our family stopped over in Nairobi, Kenya, for a couple of days before heading to Uganda. We were struck by the orderliness, cleanliness and level of development of Nairobi compared to Seoul.”  

The description of Africa in the early 70’s, particularly Uganda  when Idi Amin was in power, comparing per capita GDP’s which were not that much different at the time, sets the scene for a book that is easy to read and relate to. It is written as a personal experience and interest of Ambassador Park’s in South Korea’s transition and a keen believer in Africa’s potential.  The graphics and diagrams simplify processes and create greater understanding and clarity. The book is certainly a valuable addition to the discourse on Africa’s development.

The phenomenal transformation of South Korea and its people is a feat of human endeavour that deserves acknowledgment and the highest accolade.  In one century Koreans  were divided by ideology, devastated by war and ravaged by poverty and rose to the rank of the 10th most developed country in the world.

For Ambassador Park this amazing achievement of his fellow compatriots can be linked to Africa’s development, a continent and people he has a great affinity with. The author undertakes a research journey to explore how Africa in the 70’s during the time he lived there, was more advanced than his own country and seemed better off economically, became stagnant and perhaps even fell backward while South Korea made a quantum leap in its own development.

It seems the international community was more excited about Africa Rising then Africans were. It is this mind-set that Park wrestles with in his narrative. Unlike Korea, which is a mountainous country with minimal natural resources, Africa is blessed with abundance, resources, fertile and arable land, and precious minerals. It is these stark differences and yet similar challenges of development with contrasting outcomes that are detailed by the author. It also depicts the history of the Korean people and how South Korea’s model, one which challenged the status quo and chose a path of belief in self and a can do attitude, can work in Africa.