South Korea joins Asian giants in race for lucrative Kenya deals

 Lee Nak yeon
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak yeon. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak yeon is expected in Nairobi later this month with a high-level business delegation that will be looking to enter Kenya’s long deals pipeline.

The delegation, which will be on a three-day visit, is expected to land on July 19 and is made up of executives from Korean giants such as Samsung and Hyundai, the South Korean Embassy in Nairobi said.

The tour comes barely three weeks after Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam led his country’s top business executives to Nairobi on a deal hunting mission.

During the visit, Singapore opened its regional business office in Nairobi, the equivalent of Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra), which has had a long presence in Kenya.

The visits by Asian economic giants highlight a growing quest to cement ties with East Africa’s largest economy where front runners like China have in recent years clinched multi-billion shilling deals.

The South Korean PM is expected to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and visit the Nairobi regional offices of Korean multinationals such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai.

The South Korean Embassy in Nairobi did not, however, disclose the agenda of the PM’s trip, insisting that finer details will be communicated in coming days.

In May 2016, former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye made a two-day visit in Nairobi that resulted in the signing of several bilateral pacts.

Korean Export and Import (Exim) Bank, for instance, inked a Sh10 billion deal to set up a Nairobi branch of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) at the Konza Techno City.

Kaist is South Korea’s public research university, which Kenya is keen to emulate.

Nairobi is also educating tens of students at the Kepco International Nuclear Graduate School (KINGS) under a government-to-government deal, aiming to create a large pool of atomic technology specialists ahead of Kenya’s plan to build its first nuclear power plant.

South Korea and Singapore’s growing interest in East Africa comes at a time when China has cemented its presence in Kenya with heavy civil works and property development.

Japan’s Mitsubishi and Toshiba have emerged as top builders of Kenya’s geothermal power plants and suppliers of heavy duty equipment such as steam turbines, tapping into the East African nation’s shift to green energy.

As Chinese companies dominate financing and construction of Kenya’s highways, railways and skyscrapers, Japan seems to be focusing more on energy development.

Kenya imported Sh17.6 billion worth of goods from Korea last year compared to Sh2.4 billion that Nairobi sold to Seoul, amounting to a trade imbalance in favour of Korea. At Sh17.6 billion, Korea’s imports to Kenya are the fifth largest from Asia, behind China, India, Indonesia and Japan.