Politics and policy

Lessons for energy-thirsty Kenya from South Korea economic transformation

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Members of a  Kenyan delegation that toured the  Kori nuclear power plant site in South Korea. From left, Otieno Kajwang’ (Senator Homa  Bay), Chris Bichage (MP Nyaribari Chache), Rachael Ameso (nominated MP Kakamega),  Onesmus Njuki (MP Chuka/Igambang’ombe) and Gideon Moi (Senator, Baringo). Photo/Allan Odhiambo

Members of a Kenyan delegation that toured the Kori nuclear power plant site in South Korea. From left, Otieno Kajwang’ (Senator Homa Bay), Chris Bichage (MP Nyaribari Chache), Rachael Ameso (nominated MP Kakamega), Onesmus Njuki (MP Chuka/Igambang’ombe) and Gideon Moi (Senator, Baringo). Photo/Allan Odhiambo  Nation Media Group

By ALLAN ODHIAMBO

Posted  Wednesday, June 26  2013 at  18:54

In Summary

  • An aggressive export-oriented economic transformation after the devastating war has seen South Korea’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) grow 289 times.
  • Analysts say a focus on reliable energy supplies has helped buttress Korea’s meteoritic rise into an economic power house.
  • Kenya has reached out to South Korea for partnership and hopes nuclear power will help clear its energy woes and propel its high industrial status.

Some 61 years ago, South Korea was an economic wasteland after a devastating war with its neighbour, North Korea.

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Today, it is not only among the world’s largest economies, but also the home of prominent global corporations such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG, whose products dot nearly every home.

An aggressive export-oriented economic transformation after the devastating war has seen South Korea’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) grow 289 times, from about $82 in 1960 to $23,679 in 2012.

Kenya, with a present GDP per capita of about $900 as estimated by the World Bank, was among nations that financed the rebuilding of South Korea with a $10,000 loan in 1963 that was repaid three years later. Kenya also donated relief food to Korea to assist its starving population.

So what has driven this wonderful transformation that leaves other nations envious?

“Korea has done wonders in one generation rising from the bottom to the top. Our policy in Korea is one of a creative economy and that has helped us generate more value,” says Kun Mo-Chung, a leading technocrat in South Korea and an advisor with the Kenyan National Economic and Social Council (NESC).

Analysts say a focus on reliable energy supplies has helped buttress Korea’s meteoritic rise into an economic power house.

With a small land mass — nearly the size of the former Rift Valley Province — and no natural resources, Korea took to a technology-based economic model that soon posed a challenge in that its thirst for resources to power the industry grew in tandem with the rapid growth.

Energy security

In a radical move, South Korea adopted a nuclear power policy to safeguard its energy security and minimise dependence on unreliable imports that were worsened by an oil crisis in 1973.

“When you want economic growth, power capacity and telecoms technology is key. Korea does not have natural resources yet we needed to develop power for our economy. We opted for nuclear because it is cheaper and cleaner,” says Ahn Hong-Jun, president of the Korea Nuclear Association for International Corporation (KNA).

Korea commissioned its first nuclear plant in the 1970s and today has 23 units. It plans to build an additional six nuclear plants by 2023 to boost its energy security.

The move helped the country’s power capacity to grow by nearly 223 times, from a mere 367 megawatts (MW) in 1961 to 81,806 MW in 2012.

“This shift to nuclear has helped grow its industry in a big way. In the 1960s Korea major industries produced wigs, eye lashes, clothes and plywood, but today we have moved into high yielding but energy-intensive industries such as ship-building, manufacture of automobiles, semi-conductors, electronic goods, steel products and plant assembly,” Peter Jeon, a consultant for the South Korea nuclear industry says.

South Korea’s energy output is huge compared to a country such as Kenya that currently has an installed capacity of about 1,700MW of power.

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