What lessons can Rwanda learn from South Korea's development model?


Rwandan officials joined other worlds leaders for the 2015 Global Saemaul Leadership Forum in South Korea this week. (Courtesy)

Rwandans have been urged to learn from South Korea’s sense of ownership, and competitive spirit as part of efforts to fight poverty and foster the country’s socio-economic transformation.

Rwandan government officials are attending Global Saemaul Leadership Forum 2015 in South Korea.

The three driving social values to growth and development, according to the Korean minister for internal affairs, Chong Jong-Sup, which have propelled Korea from a receptive nation to a donor, are diligence, self-help and cooperation.

Opening the forum yesterday, Minister Chong Jong-Sup said Korea’s social transformation programme started after industrialisation had left many people from rural communities behind.

“The rural environment improvement projects laid the foundation to increase incomes with greatly improved farm land productivity after the plantation of new hybrid rice seeds, increased production of compost and cooperative pest control under Saemaul projects,” Chong Jong-Sup said.

Speaking to The New Times, Rwandan officials said there was a lot to learn from South Korea with respect to rapid growth in rural areas.

Alphonse Munyentwari, the governor of Southern Province, said Rwanda needs to strengthen some of its local initiatives which are more or less like the ones used by Koreans 40 years ago to achieve a tremendous change in rural communities.

“The ownership sense needs stronger uptakes, we have seen cases where someone, for example, is given a cow under the Girinka programme, which initially would help the same individual change for the better, but ends up selling it for quick cash and or treat it badly,” he said.

South Korea features among the 10 best industrialised countries globally.

“Korea as a country that was badly-off sometime back used such values to prosper and develop their economy which is now among the strongest worldwide, strikingly you can vividly see the spirit of ownership on their produce which is heavily marketed outside its environs, which is very crucial,” Munyentwari said.

Financial reward

Vincent Munyeshyaka, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Local Government, said government has so far been devising means to reward local government sectors that scored highly in performance contracts which will equally increase competitiveness.

“Rewards for best performers are there but we believe things can even be better, should the reward come in form of budget increase, where we will have competitive spirit among leaders which, in return, can drive rapid growth,” he said.

Emma Francoise Isumbingabo, the Rwanda’s ambassador to Korea, believes continuous sensitisation about mutual values by the two countries should ensure quick transformation of community lives.

According to Isumbingabo, the spirit of self-reliance, voluntarism instead of waiting for the well-wishers is well shared between the two countries for sustainable development although Korea is far ahead.

“In a short period possible, former President Park Chung-Hee managed to transform the country, building on such positive values that are being practiced in Rwanda but we still need to do more,” she said.

Saemoul Undong’s impact

Saemoul Undong, just like Rwanda’s monthly communal activity, Umuganda, is a Korean social movement that started way back in 1970 spearheaded by the then President Park Chung-Hee from which the country’s gross domestic product with per capita less than $250 doubled only in 10 years’ time.

On top of industrialisation, partly spurred by the cooperation with the US, South Korea currently ranks among the top richest countries in the world that managed to become a global technological hub because of high end industry sector.

The same spirit, according to Amb. Isumbingabo, will inspire bilateral cooperation between Rwanda and Korea which enjoy strong collaboration mainly in the field of education, ICT and trade and investments.

“So far, we have around 110 students studying in Korea, we have seen the entry into Rwanda of Korean Telecommunication that has since rolled out 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) in Rwanda and we have seen some expression of interest to invest in Rwanda, so there is hope for more positive results,” she added.

South Korea, through KOICA, its international development agency, has been conducting several developmental programmes in education and agriculture sectors in Rwanda.

Seamul Undong specifically has been aligned to Rwanda’s homegrown initiatives such as Umuganda to implement a number of activities in Rwanda’s rural areas, mostly in Kamonyi District.

Seamul Undong or the New Village Movement is credited with transforming impoverished Korean villages in the 1970s, reviving the country from wartime devastation.

With its success, it has arguably become a global model for regional development with over 130 countries said to have adopted the movement in their own villages.

In a video message to the Global Saemaul Leadership Forum on Tuesday, South Korea President Park Geun-hye pledged active support for the transfer of South Korea’s rural community development model to other countries.

President Park said South Korea will develop its community development programme further, or the Saemaul movement, to address the needs of different countries.