20 October 2014

South Korea’s renewed engagement in sub-Saharan Africa is driven primarily by three factors: the pursuit of food and energy security; the establishment of new markets for its manufactured goods; and the enhancement of its credentials as a prominent global power, particularly in order to counter the diplomacy of North Korea.


Daragh Neville

Projects Officer, Africa Programme

Vincent Darracq

Former TAPIR Fellow, Africa Programme, Chatham House (2011)


Image credit: Horst Rahmelow
Image credit: Horst Rahmelow


  • The South Korean government plays a pivotal role in the country’s economic expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, in close collaboration with the private sector. The Korea-Africa Forum, the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation and the Korea-Africa Industry Cooperation Forum underpin this strategy.
  • South Korean exports to Africa rose fivefold between 2000 and 2011, although bilateral trade remains low, representing only two per cent of South Korea’s global trade. The majority of South Korean exports are to only a handful of countries – such as Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa.
  • African states are seeking to diversify their bilateral relations, with 19 African diplomatic missions already in Seoul. Mozambique and Tanzania are also expected to open embassies there soon.
  • South Korea has played a positive role in the development of countries such as Rwanda, but there have been setbacks including the land-lease deal in Madagascar and South Korea’s involvement in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
  • The potential of South Korean small and medium-sized enterprises could be better supported and leveraged in order to enhance the country’s success in sub-Saharan Africa. The government and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency should focus on using these in addition to working through the South Korean business conglomerates (chaebol).