Korea public diplomacy towards Kenya

In Summary

• South Korea is seeing far-Africa is a young continent, with about 70 per cent of its population aged 30 or younger. Kenya needs to conduct similar public diplomacy.


Kenya-Korea public diplomacy
Kenya-Korea public diplomacy

Despite the fact that the Republic of Korea has a Public Diplomacy Act, a cross-cutting Public Diplomacy Committee and a public diplomacy master plan, two inspiring events which occurred this month have boosted hopes for win-win public diplomacy between Kenyans and Koreans.

The first was the inaugural Korea-Africa Youth Camp held from August 6 to 12 in Seoul and North Jeolla Province. Teenage students from Korea and 12 African countries, including Kenya, participated in the weeklong event.

South Korea is seeing far-Africa is a young continent, with about 70 per cent of its population aged 30 or younger. Kenya needs to conduct similar public diplomacy.

At the same time, Prof. KIM Yun-hee from Sookmyung Women’s University, Institute of Global Governance, was in Nairobi conducting research for the project “Korea’s Public Diplomacy Towards Kenya”. Kenya needs to do the same. We need to understand better what is going on in the minds of Koreans, and what values we share. This will help us to promote our interests there.

But before we go deeper into this PD thing, let us stop and pose the question, why is public diplomacy so crucial today that Korea had to enact a Public Diplomacy Act?  The short answer is that the benefits are substantial.

The ways in which world politics and governance are changing make public diplomacy an integral part of our relationships. Civil societies of the major nations are becoming more active and influential. The internet has flattened hierarchies. We also have the rising power of the media. All these positive trends allow citizens throughout the world to engage in debates on a whole range of issues that have previously been the domain of diplomats.

In consequence, public diplomacy has become an essential tool for communication, acceptance, and legitimacy. There’s real value in being on the ground in harmony with host country citizens. Effective public diplomacy makes the crucial difference in the perception of how a country, her people and her policies can persuade, impact and alter attitudes and decisions of foreign publics.

Now, the Korean Act defines public diplomacy as “diplomatic activities through which the State enhances foreign nationals’ understanding of and confidence in the Republic of Korea directly or in cooperation with local governments or the private sector through culture, knowledge and policies, etc.”

The government has set up its vision for public diplomacy as “Communicating Korea’s attractiveness to the entire world.”

Now, let us review how this is working in Kenya using the five elements of public diplomacy as articulated by Nicholas J. Cull in the Journal Article published under the title Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories.

The first component is Listening — the effort to manage the Kenyan environment by collecting and collating data about Kenyan publics and their opinions and using the findings to redirect South Korea’s foreign policy. I will say that Prof. Kim’s initiative is the first scholarly field survey I have witnessed in this area. Much needs to be done.

The second category is Advocacy —the attempt to manage the Kenyan environment by undertaking a specific communication activity to actively promote a particular policy, idea, or South Korea’s general interests in the minds of Kenyan public. This is another area where a lot more needs to be done.

Third is cultural diplomacy — attempts to manage the Kenyan environment by making South Korea’s cultural resources and achievements known in Kenya and/or facilitating cultural transmission in Kenya. This is working well, but there is need to harmonise public and private sector initiatives. We also need to see the House of Korea, Korea Pavilion, and Korea-Kenya village.

Fourth is exchange diplomacy — efforts to manage the Kenyan environment by sending Koreans to Kenya and reciprocally accepting Kenyans for a period of study and/or acculturation. This is an area where Korea’s public diplomacy towards Kenya has worked very well. Congratulations.

Finally, let us review international news and broadcasting component — the attempt to manage the Kenyan environment by using the technologies of radio, television, and the internet to engage with Kenyan publics. Compared to China and Japan, Korea has a long way to go.

In conclusion, if Korean Public Diplomacy is handled well, through good joint programmes with Kenya, and findings by scholars such as Prof. Kim are factored into policy, then the effort will deliver enormous success of Korean foreign policy in Kenya. The converse is also true. 

Ambassador Ngovi Kitau was the first Kenyan Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2009-2014)