Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen (right) and Ethiopian Ambassador to Seoul Dibaba Abdetta (left) pose for a photo after an interview with The Korea Herald at Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Dec. 1. The Ethiopian delegation visited Korea from Nov. 30-Dec. 3 to invigorate bilateral cooperation in diplomacy, trade and investment, technological transfer and education. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)The cradle of mankind, Ethiopia, is at the dawn of a national awakening. The country is undertaking a sweep of modernization programs to develop its schools, institutes and industries, to regain its past glory as a powerful and independent African nation.
A team of Ethiopian officials led by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen visited Korea to sustain and fast-track this process by learning from Korea’s rapid development experience.
The Ethiopian delegation met officials from Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning as well as Samsung and LG high-level executives from Nov. 30-Dec. 3, to discuss trade and investment, technological transfers and education.
Memorandums of understanding were signed between the Korea Institute of Science and Technology and Ethiopian universities, and the Science and Technology Policy Institute and Ethiopian ministries, respectively.
“Our motto today is national renaissance,” Hassen said in an interview with The Korea Herald at Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Dec. 1. “We want to take back our previous position as a strong and prosperous country. Our people are motivated and mobilized around this goal, to move out of poverty and leap forward to an advanced future.”
He said that his country is on the cusp of revolutionizing all state of affairs, led by a rapid industrialization and urbanization process. The country has maintained double-digit growth for the last 12 years, according to Hassen, and to keep up this momentum is crucial.
“We are entering a new chapter of transforming our economy from agriculture to industry, and educating our public. There’s a lot to learn from Korea in human development and technological innovation,” he said. “Korea is our major development benchmark on many different levels, and we are trying to make our relationship multifaceted.”
Hassen said that his country, being the second most populous nation in Africa with 88 million, is “very much committed to education.”
“We are currently managing more than 22 million students in schools across our country and trying to expand higher education and vocational training. Learning from Korea’s fruitful education system is very important to us.”
He stressed that there are great demands and opportunities for educational exchanges between Korea and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government aims to triple the number of Ethiopian researchers in Korean universities between 2016 and 2021, a concrete demand submitted to the Korean government during his visit.
Adama Science and Technology University and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia also need more Korean professors and researchers who can hold executive positions, such as dean or president, Hassen stressed.
The International Monetary Fund identified Ethiopia as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, registering an 11 percent growth from 2004 to 2009, and the fastest-growing non-oil-dependent African economy between 2007 and 2008. It has the largest gross domestic product in East and Central Africa.
Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Korea were established in 1963, following the deployment of Ethiopian troops that participated in the Korean War of 1950-53 as part of the United Nations forces. Even after the armistice was signed, a token Ethiopian force was stationed in Korea until 1965.
Hassen noted contributions in the form of development assistance and capacity-building made by Korea International Cooperation Agency in Ethiopia. “With KOICA’s support, different initiatives are undertaken, such as vocational training and mobilization of agricultural villages following Korea’s Saemaul Undong Movement,” he said.
Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister stressed that the movement was a “perfect model” to be replicated across the country’s rural areas where 80 percent of population lives. “Our plan is to adopt your experience into our context and modernize our rural areas. We hope to alleviate poverty, improve public health and educate our people,” he said.
Ethiopia was one of the founding members of the United Nations, and currently plays a central role in the African Union with its capital of Addis Ababa often referred to as the “political capital” of Africa.
Hassen said that there have not been enough Korean investments in Ethiopia. The country is experiencing bottlenecks in developing infrastructures, jobs and financial mechanisms, and Korean companies can reap benefits from its burgeoning textile, health care, real estate, power generation and transport industries. To this end, Ethiopia provides tax holidays, duty exemptions on capital outlays and credit facilities.
By Joel Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)