African Union’s 50th is celebrated in Seoul

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African Union’s 50th is celebrated in Seoul

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African ambassadors to Korea including Nigerian Ambassador Desmond Akawor, dean of African envoys in the country, center, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the African Union on Friday at Lotte Hotel in central Seoul with Korean officials including Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul, left of Akawor. By Park Sang-moon

As the African Union, formally the Organization of African Unity (OAU), celebrates its 50th anniversary, African Embassies in Korea held a reception, cultural events and participated in the founding of an African policy committee to commemorate the milestone.

Prior to the celebrations, Nigerian Ambassador to Korea Desmond Akawor, dean of African diplomatic community in the country, sat for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily last Wednesday at the Nigerian Embassy in Yongsan District, central Seoul, and spoke on the significance of unity in Africa and how Nigeria and Korea’s relationship has boomed in recent years.

“It has been the dream of our founding fathers to see us come back again the way we were before the colonization of Africa,” Akawor said on the significance of the 54-member African Union, which was established May 26, 2001, transitioning from the OAU established on May 25, 1963.

“The goal of trying to break down borders, the goal of trying to make free movement and economic integration, is on course,” added Akawor, who was sent to Seoul in 2008. His tenure has recently been extended another four years.

Celebrating Africa Day, ambassadors held a reception Friday at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul with the theme of “Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance” to celebrate five decades of the rise of Africa from colonialism, apartheid and the solidarity of African states. On Saturday, they held various cultural events including a food fair and sharing of art.

Yesterday, the envoys visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and met with Minister Yun Byung-se for a “Friends of Africa” event, launching a committee of 12 African policy advisers from various sectors including media, business, culture and medicine.

The Seoul-based African ambassadors - including envoys from the Congo, Senegal, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa - meet monthly at each embassy’s residence on a rotational basis.

“We all have different targets or special advantages available in our various countries,” Akawor said, “But as a group we share information and carry out the message of the great integration of Africa.”

Nigeria, the seventh-most populous country in the world, which is rich in natural resources such as oil, has seen its relations with Korea grow over recent years.

As an oil and gas producing state, 80 percent of the vessels used for offshore drilling and storage are made by Korean companies such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering and STX Heavy Industries, according to Akawor.

Nigeria also is a big importer of Korean cars and electronics.

“I used to make a joke that everything in most Nigerian households, except for the man’s wife, is imported from Korea,” he said. “The television, the refrigerator, the phone, the air-conditioner, are all from Korea.”

Akawor said that 2013 is a big year for Nigeria and Korea, as companies like Samsung and Daewoo have secured huge contracts to build plants in Nigeria.

This year started out with a bang as Samsung Heavy Industries secured an order for $3.1 billion for to build FPSO vessels and Daewoo E&C won a $800 million project to construct a petrochemical plant in Nigeria.

Akawor emphasized the importance of small- and medium-sized Korean enterprises in Nigeria, stating that President Park Geun-hye’s attention to SMEs was a positive sign.

“I have discovered in Korea there is so much potential in the small- and medium-sized enterprises and the SMEs are the organizations we really need in Nigeria,” he said, “because most construction and infrastructure jobs in Nigeria are not billion dollar jobs but jobs under $50 million and there are many such jobs, thousands of such jobs, which the chaebol - Samsung, Hyundai - can’t do because they’re too small.”

Around 25 Koreans go to Nigeria every day for business and other reasons, he added.

“It is important for regional groups to tell their history rather than for an outsider to interpret their history for them,” he said regarding regional tension in Northeast Asia, including the maritime boundary issues.

“Taking a cue from the contributions AU is making in the African region, Asian groups within Asia should be able to intervene in some of their internal conflicts,” he continued.

Nigeria has a history that is not that different from Korea’s, he said, having been colonized by the British until independence in 1960, which gave way to a military dictatorship for nearly 30 years. They attained a new democratic system in 1999.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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