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John Mahama positions Ghana & Africa for Korean investment- a keynote speech at the Korea-Africa Business Summit

It is an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to be part of the Korea-Africa Business Summit, mainly because it seeks to foster closer business and developmental ties and collaboration between the people of Korea and Africa. 

One of the admirable things about this relationship is the similarity in history between Korea and Africa. The shared adversity of colonization, and in the case of Africa, the scourge of slavery, while in Korea’s case, a total ruin from the destruction of war. 

The desire to build a prosperous life for our citizens creates a shared partnership forged on mutually beneficial arrangements and respect. We have not optimally seized the opportunities to harness what potentially should be great bilateral benefits from this partnership. 

Because of the interdependence it has stimulated, globalization means that in today’s world, no one country or continent, no matter how powerful, can flourish without active engagement with the rest of the world. A Korea- Africa partnership must be warmly embraced and developed within enhanced trade and economic exchange.

I feel elated to learn that Korea is working on strengthening its cooperation with Africa through a bi-annual Korea-Africa Summit, which will create an inclusive dialogue with Africa on the best ways to build the relationship. 

The summit will create a platform for us to focus and prioritize the necessary steps we need to take to fast-track our collaborative partnership for optimal benefit. 

Thank you, Ambassador Woon-ki Lyeo and the Korea-Africa Foundation, for your initiative in hosting this summit and the opportunity for me to participate in this year’s event. And thanks for celebrating Africa Day with us. 

I followed the discussions from Day One of the summit, and it is obvious we are partners steeped in both convergence and divergence at specific points.

Korea has become a world-class model for leapfrogging in just a few decades, from underdevelopment to one of the top economies in the world with a strong foundation in innovation, science, and technology. This feat has been achieved through visionary leadership, patriotism, perseverance, innovation, and a passionate drive to achieve excellence.

South Korea is reported to rank the 10th largest economy in the world and 4th largest in Asia - you have a diversified economy heavy on industrialization and home to many global and prominent brands in the automobile, electronics, electrical, and technology sectors. 

Of course, we have also been keen observers of the discipline, high ethical standards, and accountability you demand of your leaders. 

I won’t say Africa has not had its share of visionary leaders. Some have worked extra hard to change the narrative of Africa. One such leader was the first President of my country, Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah – a visionary leader who pushed both for the rapid industrialization of our country and the unity of Africa. 

There are still many ways to deepen the cooperation and partnership between Africa and Korea for mutual benefit. Having been President of Ghana before and still very active in the political space, I feel a deep commitment to working hard to bring our two countries together. It is one of the reasons I am happy to be back in South Korea.

Since my arrival, I have met many great people – both Koreans and citizens of other nations. I have listened, I have learned. This summit has imbued me with new ideas and raised my interest in working even harder for a closer relationship based on honesty and mutual respect.

What can Korea offer Africa, and for that matter Ghana? How can Ghana and Africa benefit from this partnership with Korea? 

In Africa, we have a unique problem, which is an asset at the same time, if we manage it well— Africa is the youngest continent and has the largest population of young people. Africa’s youthful population is educated and eager to acquire new skills to enter the world of work.

Twelve (12) million young Africans enter the labour market every year. Unfortunately, only three (3) and four (4) million jobs are created annually in Africa. Africa needs to double its job creation capacity to keep up with the growing youth bulge, or it will turn into a ticking time bomb.

To do this, we must accelerate the growth of African economies. We must diversify our economies from just the export of primary products. We must strive for value addition for our exports. We must promote African entrepreneurship and enterprise, but above all, we expand trade among ourselves.

How can we forge a partnership with Korea that allows our young people to benefit from a transfer of knowledge and technology that harnesses their vast talents and creativity for growth? I would like to have this summit consider the above when submitting a report on the outcomes of our deliberations.

Ghana has had a history of Korean investments in Ghana. Early investors like the well-known Bok Nam-Kim made significant investments in fisheries and agribusiness. Other investors who have come in have concentrated on the import of used autos and auto spare parts.

With the recent opening of a KIA vehicle assembly plant, I can see new beginnings. Younger Koreans like my friend Kojo Choi have invested in the Fintech space. His PaySwitch payment and settlements platform is bringing in some of the latest Korean fintech experience, providing banking and credit solutions for Ghana. 

Digital finance and services (and App development) are other areas young Ghanaian fintech and technology talents will benefit significantly from in partnership with Korea. There is a huge demand for services in this area. 

Food production and Agri-business are other areas in which Africa has a comparative advantage. There is a demand for technology solutions in Ghana's agriculture value chain and agri-business. A viable partnership can be developed to provide digital solutions for producing animals and crops. 

Ghana has a significant endowment in natural resources. Ghana is blessed with gold, bauxite, manganese, oil, and, lately, lithium. A collaboration between Ghana and Korea to use Ghanaian lithium to build batteries for the EV revolution in the world would be a mutually beneficial venture.

Korea is a leading shipbuilding nation. Ghana has a shipyard built by our first President. It requires retooling and efficient management. A partnership between the Korean shipbuilding industry and the Ghana Ports and Habours Authority (GPHA) will make the shipyard the sole provider of services to merchant vessels and oil vessels from Mauritania to Namibia.

There is an excellent opportunity for the introduction of feeder vessels along the coast of Africa to redistribute African-produced goods and imported cargo at a more optimal cost than is currently the case.

The power sector presents an enormous opportunity for Korean investments in Africa. The continent has a huge demand for energy to drive its economic growth. Korea has the technology and know-how in the traditional energy sector and renewables. There is no better case for cooperation than this.  

Africa’s comparatively cheaper labour cost and the growing market make a compelling case for business partnerships with Ghanaian and African businesses. Perhaps the most profound agent for Africa’s transformation is the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA creates a potential market of 1.3 billion people. This will make it possible to produce in one African country and export products to other countries.

To optimize opportunities under the AfCTFA, however, it will be necessary for Africa to improve its cross-border infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, railways, aviation, and ports. These can be done on a Built- Operate- Transfer (BOT) basis and would greatly catapult the growth of the African economy.

As a national leader, I recognize that Africa's public sector needs more job creation opportunities. We must therefore create opportunities for the private sector to thrive and employ more. 

Can we create these conditions for a renewed partnership between Korea and Africa? Yes, we can! And we must! 

Our young people must see a much brighter future ahead, and they are willing to put in the shift to make it a reality. Korea can help us nudge our young innovators and entrepreneurs to realize their dreams and extricate themselves from the unemployment trap. 

Latent talent and skills are abundant in our young people. There are many who, despite the lamentable situation, come through with impressive feats and achievements. These point to untapped potential, which it must be our duty as leaders to unlock and unleash.

We in Africa must engage Korea from all angles so that we can offer hope to our young people by having them learn from the shining examples that the Korean turn-around story provides. 

Korea can also leverage its unique advancements to partner with Ghana and Africa to build smart cities, develop social housing, and provide opportunities for collaborative payment platforms, Artificial Intelligence, and robotic platforms. 

This can only be done with fundamental shifts in how African economies function and run. Sound economic management, founded on broad and far-reaching governance and economic reforms, must take root in African countries. Monetary policy should be geared towards sustainable growth, and this should come with equitable distribution of the proceeds of that growth.

Let me conclude by leaving you with a firm assurance that you can count me in. You can count me in as a committed advocate to put in my best to promote together with you the fragile seedling of Korea-Africa relations and nurture it to grow into a big and mighty tree. 

Africa and Korea can make it together not only for our mutual benefit but for the benefit of humanity and the future of our world.

Gamsahabnida. Thank you for this opportunity and your kind attention.

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