Why South Korea is investing big in Rwanda


Chinese investment in Africa gets a lot of attention in the media. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking China is the only Asian country with an interest in the African continent if you rely on the mainstream media for your business and current affairs fix.

This isn’t the case, of course.

One of East Africa’s most intriguing financial relationships is between the relatively small nations of South Korea and Rwanda. It’s a relationship that dates back more than a decade now and the countries have a lot more in common than you might at first expect.

These days, their strongest bond is a flair for technology and innovation – something Rwanda also shares with fellow investors Japan, India and South Africa. And ten years after South Korea’s KT Corporation first helped Rwanda built its existing communications infrastructure, the telecoms giant hopes its base in Rwanda will open doors to the wider African continent.


Partners in innovation

Unlike China, which excels at manufacturing processes, it holds onto a global reputation as a country that fails to innovate. Meanwhile, its tiny neighbour South Korea brought us the first MP3 player, the first tablet computer, the first smartwatch, the first internet cafe and so much more.

South Korea was also the first country to successfully clone a dog. It pioneered the science of nanomedicine and developed a preventative HIV vaccine – the first to be approved for human trials.

South Korea is true innovator and this is the most important tie it has with Rwanda.

Rwanda’s reputation as an innovator is much younger than South Korea’s, of course. However, the East African nation’s rapid rise since a brutal genocide is harrowingly familiar following South Korea’s incredible economic achievements following the Korean War, which effectively ended in 1953.

Much like South Korea, Rwanda emerged from conflict with a long list of issues to address. The East African nation has had to seek sustainable development the Rwandan way, just as South Korea had to find its own path more than 50 years ago. And this is where Rwanda’s continued demonstration of innovation sets it apart from its neighbours.


Rwanda is setting itself up as a tech hub

In 200, Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame launched the country’s Vision 2020 Program. The plan specifically sets out the goals of turning Rwanda into a “knowledge-based… middle-income country” powered by “science and technology”.

The government has since established a dedicated ministry devoted to IT and Rwanda is becoming a genuine player in the tech startup scene.

“Rwanda is a startup country,” Jean Philbert Nsengimana told TechCrunch last year. “Our development strategy has been clear from the beginning that ICT would be one of the foundations of our transformation.”

The world is taking note, too, with continued investment coming into the country from key technology innovators. Which, among others, includes South Korea.


Rwanda as a base for investment

A shared interest in innovation and historic similarities aren’t enough to keep South Korea investing in Rwanda, of course. KT Corporation helped the East African nation develop its communications system, operates ICT services in both public and private markets and provides a 4G service in partnership with the government.

Helping build Rwanda as a technology innovator builds it as an entry point to the rest of Africa. In many ways, Rwanda is setting the example for economic and technology development in the region and KT has a rightful claim in part of that – something neighbouring countries will be keen to replicate.

The telecoms giant describes Rwanda as “a regional hub in Pan-Africa business.”

KT isn’t the only South Korean tech company investing in the East African nation either. Nor is South Korea the only tech innovator to view Rwanda as a key entry point into the African continent.


Featured image: By Oskar Alexanderson – originally posted to Flickr as DSC_0234, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110337

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.