By Amb. Ngovi Kitau
The future for Korea and Kenya is very bright. Feb.12 was the greatest and happiest day since Kenya and Korea established diplomatic relations on Feb. 7, 1964. The successful kickoff ceremony for the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, (Kenya KAIST), which is being developed by a Korean consortium; and the signing of a certificate of commencement, which took place at the Konza Technopolis, is a historic breakthrough and fulfillment of a dream which started 10 years ago. It was reinforced by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Kenya and the Government of South Korea on May 31st, 2016 during the visit to Kenya by the then President Ms. Park Guen Hye.
High-level delegations from government, academia and the private sector from both Korea and Kenya, with the Korean KAIST-Samoo-Sunjin consortium taking the lead, were present to witness the dream come true.
The Korean side sent seven delegations starting with one from the Korean KAIST led by President Shin Sung-chul, and Dr. Chung Kun-mo, a project advisory board chairman and the nuclear scientist who started the Korean KAIST, benchmarked on U.S MIT in 1971. Others were from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Nairobi, led by Ambassador Choi Yeong-han; Korea Eximbank; KOTRA; Samoo Architects & Engineers; Sunjin Engineering & Architecture; and Korean expatriates in Nairobi.
Kenyan government ministries and agencies were led by Professor Collette A. Suda, Chief Administrative Secretary and Principal secretary of the state department for university education and research, who was also the chief guest. Others included, the project implementation team; universities; the Kenya architectural sector; the Konza Technopolis development authority led by chairman Dr. Mutiso and CEO Eng. Tanui; and regional congressmen led by Adeline Mwau, the deputy governor of Makueni County.
The envisioned Kenya KAIST is a world-class science and technology research university. It is a very crucial institution, whose benefits will accrue, not only to Kenya, but the entire African continent.
Notwithstanding the above, let me highlight some very important benefits of KAIST to both Kenya and Korea. One, It will guide us, in our future together, as Kenya embarks, on a knowledge-based economy, and Korea pursues new markets in frontier and emerging markets.
Secondly, by conducting pertinent research that will attract FDI to Kenya, led by Korean companies, KAIST will also provide a bulwark against Chinese global initiatives, such as Made in China 2025 and AI 2030.
As Kenya enplanes innovation-led growth, leapfrogging on Korea’s highly valued experience and advanced technology, KAIST will be a linchpin, in this endeavor, and process; and the upshot will further elevate and strengthen the longstanding friendship and the flourishing partnership between Kenya and South Korea.
There is no doubt that Kenya KAIST will transform the Kenyan economy. However its sustainability will depend on funding. Prof. Shin Sung-chul informed me that the Korean KAIST has three revenue streams namely: the Korean government (25 percent), donations (35 percent) and industrial-academic collaboration (40 percent). This “triple-helix” model of technology transfer with three actors ― university, industry and government ― all playing indispensable and irreplaceable roles in the national system of innovation, has worked very well worldwide, and will work even better for Kenya KAIST, supported by industrial-academic collaboration from Korean chaebol and SMEs.
There are many Korean industries facing domestic challenges which can immediately team up with Kenyan KAIST to open new markets in Africa. One such industry is the auto industry which is lagging behind global rivals. It has even been overtaken by emerging countries like India and Mexico. It registered its third consecutive year of decline, last year, and was the only country to have declined among the top 10 countries. Now is the time for Korea to enter expanding and profitable markets in Africa.
In conclusion, this is the time to hold hands together and say “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Let Korean companies team up with the Kenya KAIST to create either autonomous, co-owned, or regional technology holding companies, as well as affiliated companies, for mutual benefit and prosperity.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Kenya’s first Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2009-2014).