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African cities can learn from the South Korean Development Model


Photo: Night descends upon the bright lights, hustle, and bustle of Seoul.

The concept of “cities and cities” was conceptualised during my trip to Togo a few months ago. While having a discussion with my long-time friend Simon Rweyongoza, we analysed Africa’s development and explored what it will take to re-invent it.

Also influencing this piece is my recent interaction with the South Korean Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Dr Jong-Dae Park, who visited 22 on Sloane in April and invited me to a seminar which he hosted at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria.

The seminar was themed Endless Opportunities: Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. Among the speakers were Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, Head of Special Projects at ISS, Dr Martyn Davies from Deloitte and Marius Oosthuizen from GIBS

Some of the speakers argued that Africa has to go back and ensure that it achieves the 1st, 2nd and 3rd industrial revolution before thinking of the 4th. The issues of bad governance and lack of good management were also pinpointed as key factors that were inhibiting the advancement of Africa’s development.

During his visit to 22 on Sloane, Dr Jong-Dae Park gave me a book he wrote on Africa titled “Re-Inventing Africa’s Development”. This gave insights into how linking Africa to the South Korean Development Model will help the continent advance towards success. A book written by an Asian diplomat on African development speaks volumes on where and how we have missed the mark – and continue to do so – and how we can get back on track to build our cities, countries and continent.

So what makes Dr Jong-Dae Park’s book so relevant to Africa you may ask? What makes Seoul different from say Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi or Kampala?

The economy of South Korea is one of the largest in Asia and one of the top ten in the world. From being one of the poorest countries, it rose to become one of the most highly-developed and richest in just a few generations. As the Ambassador mentioned in his book (and I paraphrase), “South Korea moved from being an aid recipient to an aid donor, making it a prominent example of successful economic and political transformation and the South Korean contemporaries are living proof of this experience”.

In many ways, the smart city concept is simply good urban planning that incorporates both advances in digital technology and new thinking in the age-old city concepts of relationships, community, environmental sustainability, participatory democracy, good governance and transparency.

Often, the intelligent city concept involves a re-urbanization of cities, encouraging urbanites to focus their time, energy and abilities on the ongoing urban project through a new layer of electronic connectivity. A virtuous circle is thus formed, in which the city empowers its citizens to power its evolution, creating a positive feedback loop. Above all, smart cities are interactive cities.

So how do we build African cities that mirror the South Korean Development Model? Although I have not finished reading Dr Jong-Dae Park’s book, I did find three key points that can help us rebuild or reinvent our cities and towns.

Strong role of government: Government is very critical in the development of any country in the world, in policy, management and driving active citizenry. Many authors have written pieces on why Africa still lags behind and the suggestions seem unanimous that our challenge on the continent is a management one. Many governments in Africa still lack the skills and willingness to drive their country’s development. Although many still argue that the colonial past hurts us, which is acknowledgeable, the cold hard truth is that it’s simply poor management. What’s more, a severe lack of good, visionary leadership has hampered our development and where many from outside the continent see opportunities, our youth sees despair and clamours to get a better life outside of it.

Active entrepreneurship of corporations: No matter how big or small, we have to actively advance the importance of entrepreneurship and help companies to advance this internally, while supporting the growth of new businesses. Entrepreneurship is all about designing, disrupting, creating, building, scaling and innovating. The world’s dynamics continue to change rapidly, so too must we. As the IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty said last week, “corporations owe it to society and their shareholders to help prepare people for AI-driven changes to the workforce”. In a world where it is expected that AI will impact every existing job, she said business leaders have an important social, corporate and economic responsibility to help high school students develop skills for what she called “new collar” jobs at the intersection of business and technology. Think cloud and cyber careers. She concluded by saying that there’s a different paradigm that I think is going to be needed to make this an inclusive era. It is one of the things I worry about the most.

Extraordinary levels of work ethic: We live in a society where most prefer the 9 to 5 gig. Now, without promoting workplace abuse, we have to consider making our people more productive with a good work ethic, which is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character and individual abilities. To borrow from JFK, we must build a work force that thinks “not only what can my company do for me, but what can I do for my company” – and how do I work hard to ensure the survival and advancement of the company? A few weeks ago, many people criticised Jack Ma, billionaire and founder of Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce platform, for saying that “to survive at the

Alibaba Group, you need to work 12 hours a day, six days a week”. Ma told an internal meeting that Alibaba doesn’t need people who look forward to a typical eight-hour office lifestyle, according to a post on Alibaba’s official Weibo account. Instead, he endorsed the industry’s notorious 996 work culture – that is, 09:00 to 21:00, six days a week.

To conclude, there are various avenues open, most of which are proven and successful like the South Korean Development Model, to totally reinvent the personality, presence and power of African cities to prosper more and thrive.

And we can’t delay this anymore, we’re already too far behind…

 Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa – 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.

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