South Korea is dangling market reorientation and technological expertise to gain access to African countries, joining a list of global powers wanting a slice of the continent’s resources, The East African reports.

But at the Korea-Africa Summit this week in Seoul, the Asian country steered clear of promising actual technology transfer to Africa, one of the things leaders gathered there had asked directly. East African leaders — President William Ruto of Kenya, Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni (represented by his Vice-President Jessica Alupo) — had requested technology cooperation, balanced trade and work on debt reduction through multilateral lenders among the issues they considered critical for their economies.

They arrived in Seoul praising South Korea’s technological advances, including the fact that the country is one of the biggest buyers of energy and has lately focused on semiconductor production, making it a sure market for Africa’s useful minerals in the energy transition business. But leaders had also been familiar with the criticism that most of the natural resources leaving Africa are never processed locally and technology is never bequeathed to locals.

“I, therefore, call for a significant enhancement of technology transfer and knowledge exchange in order to empower our youth and spur inclusive economic development,” Kenya’s Ruto told the audience at the opening session.

Later, on Wednesday, during the Korea-Africa Business Summit, Ruto argued Korean firms can take advantage of Kenya’s desire to add 3GW of power to its grid from green resources, using their technology. “There is a huge opportunity for South Korean industries and investors to leverage the comparative advantages of Kenya and other African countries in clean energy by establishing reliable supply chain networks, decarbonising production and consumption and growing African and Korean economies.”

President Hassan also weighed in on clean energy, focusing on clean cooking. “Increased investment in clean cooking solutions will not only lower emissions and reduce deforestation, but will also reduce respiratory-related deaths and empower women,” she said.

“Investing in the clean cooking agenda in Africa also presents economic opportunities in terms of development of clean cooking solutions on the continent.” Koreans, however, weren’t committed to technology transfer per se.

They promised the Tech4Africa initiative aimed at supporting the education and training of Africa’s young population. They did pledge to strengthen cooperation in science and digital technology, as well as training opportunities, which they argue is useful for overall productivity of economies.

“We are committed to making efforts to share Korea's expertise in the fields of digital government including the Customs e-Clearance system (Uni-Pass), the Korea ON-line E-Procurement system (Koneps), and the Korean Statistical Information Service (Kosis),” said a joint declaration between the two sides that also promised to enhance people-to-people exchanges.

African leaders had called for technology transfer, especially to enable countries to learn from Korea’s developed technology in robotics, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and related areas. “This summit serves to remind us that even more can be done,” said President Kagame.

“From artificial intelligence and robotics to small modular nuclear reactors, to driving the energy transition with critical raw materials, Africa and Korea should be working side-by-side.” President Museveni said the summit should be an opportunity for Africa to ‘mirror the economic progress that we see in Korea today’.

“The globalised economy is reliant on technology, a sector that the Republic of Korea has continued to excel in. We therefore look forward to the knowledge sharing and transferring from Korea.”

There is usually a problem with countries allowing technology transfer, which means that they have to bequeath the developing countries to copy and localise it. Pradeep Mehta, Secretary-General of CUTS International, a lobby that monitors rules and policies on international trade, says developed nations are wary of copyright infringements.

“All developed countries are reluctant in tech transfer because of weak enforcement of IPR (intellectual property rights) regimes. AfCFTA should be the counterpart of foreign countries to negotiate trade and investment agreements with Africa,” he said after the summit, referring to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement, which seeks to open up markets on the continent.

“Effective IPR protection has to be pushed upwards. It is a gradual process in the Global South.

“Otherwise, tech transfer becomes difficult and foreign manufacturers find it more convenient to sell goods and services. This means that the value addition becomes more difficult thus industrialisation suffers.”

The AfCFTA itself has been adopted sluggishly in spite of coming into force three years ago. In Korea, AfCFTA Secretary-General Wamukele Mene signed an MoU with the Korea International Trade Agency to establish the Korea-Africa Economic Committee ‘to facilitate effective cooperation between the parties’.

“With the AfCFTA providing a unified framework for economic activity, we have the perfect platform to enhance our cooperation and create a brighter future for all,” Mene said. The summit was the first ever at the level of heads of State or government.

But there had been previous meetings between line ministers of agriculture and economy, signalling Korea’s focus areas for its investment. Seoul had said it was coming into the summit ‘series with a new model; that of human development and management, rather than just aid.

They promised to double official development assistance (ODA) to $10 billion by 2030 and pump $14 billion to fund Korean companies’ investments in Africa. To do that, they pledged to pursue bilateral arrangements with African countries, focusing on Economic Partnership Agreements, Trade and Investment Promotion Frameworks, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements, and Investment Protection Agreements, which they said will “facilitate mutual access for each other's products to their respective markets”.

Some countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Morocco have begun discussing EPAs with Korea. But whether they boost or undercut the continental free trade area agreement known as AfCTA will be a matter of wait-and-see. “The best bet is to push for a collective African free trade agreement.

“The Republic of Korea has no free trade agreement with Africa, which make African agricultural products uncompetitive,” Ngovi Kitau, a former Kenyan ambassador to South Korea, said.

“Keep in mind that Korean population is similar to that of Kenya, 50 million. That limits demand for consumables.”

There was something to carry home, however. Uganda signed a $500 million loan to help finance infrastructure building in the country, Uganda's Finance ministry said.

South Korea's Exim Bank will provide the loan. Kenya signed a $485 million concessional development funding, which includes $238 million for the implementation of the Konza Digital Media City Project which State House in Nairobi said will help provide “an excellent digital media and entertainment ecosystem for research, training and the propagation of new technologies”.

Koreans had been supporting Konza project through the Economic Innovation Partnership Programme and had helped start the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kenya-Aist) mimicking the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He said Kenya-Aist is nearing completion and will be unveiled later this year. He invited President Yoon to Kenya during the official opening of the institute.