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