Africa Can Be the Next South Korea – and Here’s How

For years, South Korea’s spectacular economic ascent has been seen as a blueprint for success. Once considered one of the poorest countries in the world, it has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a devastating war to become the 4th largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest in the world.

One interesting thing to do is compare its various economic indicators with Sub-Saharan Africa (as shown in the figure below). Needless to say, the differences are stark. 

The figure for GDP per capita can be turned into a visual story: 

Imagine South Korea and Sub-Saharan Africa as two people at the starting line of a race in 1960. South Korea races past as soon as the gun goes off, while Sub-Saharan Africa just hangs around the starting point, exchanging jokes and stories with the guy holding the starting gun, maybe even posing for pictures to delight the audience.

S. Korea vs Africa


To understand the important role that trade played in South Korea’s economic growth, let’s go through a brief history lesson. In 1962, South Korea implemented an export-centric development strategy: 

First, exports of labor-intensive light manufactured goods were promoted. Financial incentives such as tax-free imports of raw materials encouraged the production of export goods, stimulating the growth in textile and electrical machine industries. 

Then, light manufacturing shifted to heavy manufacturing in the early 1970s, which later on changed towards export–oriented consumer products, including electronics and high tech. 

Of course, the reality of South Korea’s economy is much more complex than this, but there is a theory among scholars that the driving force behind South Korea’s economic growth was its well-educated and highly-motivated human capital.

This brings us to the bottom left figure. 

The human capital in Sub-Saharan Africa is immense. In fact, it’s burgeoning. This could be our blessing…

In 2035, Africa is projected to have the biggest workforce globally. Imagine if this treasure trove of potential is properly harnessed. Our economies could turn around so we too can be studied in history as a sort of Phoenix story. 

In other words, we could be deemed the next South Korea. However, this booming human population could also be our curse. It could translate to increased poverty, unemployment and unrest. 

So what decides which path we take? A hint can be found in the “well-educated and highly-motivated” part. 

Unfortunately, Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion in the world with estimates placing out-of-school rate at 21 %. Tertiary enrollment is even lower.

As we tackle the educational problem through our academic institutions African Leadership Academy, and African Leadership University, the one common thread we’re emphasizing plays a pivotal part in changing motivations and mindsets, and that is…


The right kind of leader can mobilize entire communities by using words such as, “I have a dream…” 

The right kind of leader can also send 3.5 million people to voluntary give up their gold in a campaign to help the country repay its debt to the International Monetary Fund as had happened in South Korea in 1998. 

Unfortunately, we have a permeating leadership problem across Africa. You see it trickling down from the top where people seek positions of power to advance their own selfish needs. You see it within companies run by ego-driven leaders who care more about their image than the empowerment of their own employees. You see it in homes where the voices of women are silenced. 

But we want to change this. 

And we have less than 6000 days to do it. As ALX, the latest innovation of the African Leadership Group, we’re on an audacious mission to build 3 million ethical and entrepreneurial leaders by the year 2035. 

Everything that we do at ALX, through running our launchpad to up-skill young professionals, or turn middle managers into leaders who transform their own organizations, we emphasize on a type of leader who is driven by values of humility, initiative, courage, resilience, and adventure. 

But we can’t do it alone. We need to do it together. As the African saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

So if you’re willing to join us on this adventure, feel free to reach out to us.

About the Writer:

This article was written by Amina Islam, a Research Consultant at ALX. She is passionate about sharing stories about Africa annd other topics. Find more of her articles on her blog.

4 Comment(s)

  1. Kabera Innocent

    What a great and inspirational article, I have been asking myself why poverty in Africa? But what I have seen is that we now have the platform where we can learn from both our history and others history. And if we change the system of education, where youth’s creativity is developed instead of being terminated and having youths who are able to question the system no matter what, Africa will be the next south Korea! We still have a long journey but I am optimistic. Thank you so much Amina Islam for your work.

    July 30, 2019 at 7:30 am | Reply
  2. Seun Toyobo

    Great article. Very inspiring. Go AFRICA EMACIPATE YOURSELF.

    August 5, 2019 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  3. Rodney Batts

    I will do everything I can to help ALX and ALA. I will be in Nairobi in November and Johannesburg in December and would love to see your operations.

    August 19, 2019 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  4. I will appreciate the to run with the baton—how can I sign up

    I will love to become a Contributor to Africa’s greatness

    August 23, 2019 at 2:38 pm | Reply

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