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[Herald Interview] Backing peninsular peace, Kenya sees Koreas as ‘brothers and sisters’

Kenya supports Seoul's bid for nonpermanent membership of UNSC, says foreign minister

Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Alfred Mutua speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald at a hotel in central Seoul on Thursday. (Kenya government)
Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Alfred Mutua speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald at a hotel in central Seoul on Thursday. (Kenya government)

Kenya seeks to be in “sync” with South Korea on all the issues it stands for, and wants to build stronger ties in politics, the economy and culture, said Alfred Mutua, Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for foreign affairs.

“Kenya believes in the principle of peace and prosperity; we support Korea's position about the peninsula. ... Issues that Korea stands for are the same issues that we stand for,” Mutua said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday.

Mutua was accompanying Kenya's president on a visit to Seoul for their first bilateral summit in 32 years. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1964.

As a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council for 2021 and 2022, the secretary said Kenya supported South Korea and the rest of the world, and condemns the series of tension-raising missile launches by the North.

"We want a world where people wake in the morning, do their business and go to sleep without worrying what will hover over their heads in the middle of the night," Mutua said.

"We want people to play a game that everybody agrees to, and that’s where we are at. So when it comes to provocations and battles, we’ve condemned it."

At the same time, the secretary noted they should still deal with the North Korean issue, as South Korea and the North are "brothers and sisters."

"After all South Korea and the North are brothers and sisters. Same genetics, same blood. It’s just different political persuasion. So we need to deal with that. That’s our position."

As South Korea plans to vie for nonpermanent membership of the UNSC, the foreign minister also said Kenya will support Seoul in the election.

The foreign affairs secretary also highlighted Kenya's desire to strengthen economic ties with South Korea, as the country has set its goal to become the gateway into Africa for South Korean businesses and vice versa.

“We want to grow important exports for both of our countries, we want to learn from each other," Mutua said, explaining how the two countries share many similarities in the population -- about 52 million and 55 million people for South Korea and Kenya, respectively -- and the education system and skill bases.

"Kenya would like to share what it has with Korea. ... The balance of trade favors Korea, I would like to see markets open in both ways. I want to see (the Korean) market open for Kenyan products, even as we lower tariffs on both sides and for Korean products in Kenya and Africa."

Total trade between Kenya and South Korea has steadily increased over the last decade from $193.1 million in 2012 to $526.5 million in 2021. But as the trade balance is largely weighted toward Korean exports -- recording a trade deficit of $458.8 million for Kenya in 2021 -- the African country wants to increase its exports to Korea, the foreign minister said.

According to the Kenyan Embassy in Seoul, Kenya's top exports to Korea include coffee and coffee substitutes, unmanufactured tobacco, titanium ore and copper and aluminium scrap.

“I’d like for people to know that I really salute Korea because, despite all the challenges you faced, you’ve really proven yourself and we look at Korea as -- in Kenya we call you one of the tiger economies. You’ve really shown that it is possible," Mutua said.

The foreign minister also raised hopes for the cooperation of the two countries in the field of art and culture, so that they become more than just names on maps to each other.

“We do believe that we have so much similarity and we want to enhance the field of art and culture. Korea’s doing very well in music, in filmmaking, and we would like to have cultural exchanges,” he said.

“Get our students to come here, and Koreans coming to Kenya, so that we can get to know more about each other. So we are not just names on a map, but we have relationships.”

The foreign minister said Kenya has requested the South Korean government to review issuing one- to three-year working visas for Kenyan students who finish their degrees here, for them to further their work experience before returning home.

"We want Korean people to know that they have a friend called Kenya and Kenyans."

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)

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