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How Africa Takes the Short End of the Stick in One-sided Relations with North Korea

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The diplomatic ties between African countries and North Korea are as old as international relations itself. The relations have over the years defied UN sanctions and isolation of North Korea by western nations, to endure up till present times.

In Mozambique, a street named after Kim il-Sung can be found in the capital city of Maputo. In Namibia’s national museum, a black-and-white picture of a North Korean soldier leading a group of local soldiers hangs in the foyer. These and many instances show the depth of the relations between the Koreans and  Africans even though the latter has little or nothing to show for their sacrifices.

North Korea shares a master-slave or one-sided relations with many African governments. Although these ties are often viewed solely through the lens of economic and security interests,  they go deeper than that.

North Korea–Africa’s one-sided relations are also bolstered by China, Russia and other rogue regimes which have been complicit in North Korea’s arms and ivory trade, activities providing funds that likely support the Kim regime’s nuclear ambitions and allow it to withstand international sanctions.

North Korea’s Africa policy is based on a selfish motive to find a hiding place in a continent made up of gullible leaders and a docile populace. Over the decades, North Korean Machiavellian leaders have managed to convince Africa’s nationalists that their western colonial masters were bad people and that they should befriend the Eastern block. This is even though the United States and its perennial ally, the United Kingdom, have contributed significantly to the positive evolution of most African countries. While the sole aim of the Koreans is to reap friendship and solidarity without sowing, the western countries have sowed and continue to sow in billions of dollars into the education, health, infrastructure, entertainment, sports and counter-terrorism measures of African countries. Yet, the North Koreans and their partners-in-crime, China, have managed to manipulate successive African leaders into accepting the crooked Eastern block as allies and business partners.

As a result, many African countries continue to have close ties with Pyongyang despite United Nations sanctions on North Korea. In particular, North Korea is active in the illicit African arms trade, construction of ammunitions factories, and trafficking of rhino horns and ivory, as well as a lot of more destructive, illegal trade activities that do not serve the long-term interests of the continent.

China has been complicit in North Korea’s illegal activities in Africa, especially in the construction and development of Uganda’s largest arms manufacturer and in allowing the trade of ivory and rhino horns to pass through Chinese networks.

For its part, North Korea looks to Africa for economic opportunity, owing to African governments’ lax sanctions enforcement and the Kim family regime’s need for hard currency.

There’s no doubting the fact that the relations between North Korea and Africans have over the decades been parasitic, with the latter being at a continuous disadvantage.

There are facts in the history and evolution of the diplomatic ties between North Korea and Africa to show that the latter has been in support and solidarity with the former in its most challenging and trying moments, at the expense of its health and stability, and possible sanctions from the United Nations.

Sanctions on the North Korean regime were meant to whip the country into line and stop it from pursuing its provocative nuclear program.

The U.N. sanctions, which were first imposed in 2006, focus on arms embargoes and trade restrictions

Some African countries have however been accused of receiving military assistance from North Korea. According to the U.N., Pyongyang has conducted military training in Angola, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; attempted to ship military communications equipment to Eritrea; shipped arms to Mozambique; repaired military equipment in Tanzania; and built military-related facilities in Namibia. North Korea has been doing all these under the guise of helping the hapless African nations whereas, in reality, it is building a massive military presence on the continent that threatens all the nations around.

The close ties between African nations and the rogue North Korea regime are not only capable of earning the former massive U.N. sanctions, but it has also denied them a lot of opportunities in the western block. So far so bad for Africa, only the Koreans stood to benefit from everything.

The first penalties against Pyongyang were implemented in 2006 over the regime’s nuclear program. The measures aimed to block arms trafficking and economic transactions. However, according to a UN report, North Korea was still able to sell military radio equipment to Eritrea, and automatic weapons to Congo. Pyongyang also reportedly organized military training in Angola, Uganda and Congo, and supplied weapons to Mozambique.

This flies in the face of the fact that the UN has imposed nine rounds of sanctions on North Korea since 2006

Trade Imbalance Between North Korea and Africa

Trade between North Korea and African nations is estimated to be worth US$100 million, with little or nothing to show on the side of the African governments.

This is a significant amount of money for North Korea that has had to deal with the challenge of sanctions and isolation. It is also a significant risk for the African countries that defy UN resolutions to continue to deal with the Pariah nation called North Korea.

From 2000 to 2015, exports from North Korea to Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Zambia increased by an average annual growth rate of 1.58 per cent. Imports from Benin, Senegal and Mozambique saw an average annual growth rate of 1.84 per cent during the same period. Across Africa, goods traded with North Korea span an array of sectors and amount to more than $100 million annually.

Pyongyang’s economic ties to Africa have been pervasive and lopsided. Twenty-nine African nations import goods from North Korea, but only 19 nations export goods to North Korea, according to 2015 data.

The deals are small from the perspective of the African nations, accounting for a very small percentage of their total imports and exports.

For the top African importer, Burkina Faso, trade with North Korea accounts for $32.8 million, or 1 per cent, of annual imports. For the top African exporter, Senegal, North Korean trade accounts for $7.82 million, or 0.29 per cent, of annual exports.

Compared to China’s trade deals with North Korea, which exceeded $5 billion in 2015, the entire African continent imports just $100 million and exports just $17.5 million of goods from North Korea.

In 2015, the top five African countries imported more than $73 million in goods from North Korea, and exports from the top five African countries to North Korea added up to $15 million.

Massive Negative Presence in Africa

Pyongyang’s presence in Africa is impossible to ignore. In many countries, bronze statues in the monumental style are reminiscent of the bonds of communism that once linked the continent to North Korea.

The presidential palace in Windhoek was designed and constructed by the North Korean company Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP), for heavy fees.

Many African countries have bronze sculptures commemorating prominent personalities – and many of them bear the artistic signature of the same MOP.  For decades, the state enterprise has earned a fortune for the North Korean regime with the construction of monuments and military installations in Africa.

The company erected four gigantic buildings in Namibia. The presidential palace in Windhoek, completed in 2008, has also helped boost the income of the North Korean leadership.

According to the United Nations, Namibia has invested an estimated $100 million (119 million euros) in Kim dynasty projects, including ammunition factories, since 2002. Facing accusations they had violated international sanctions, the Namibian government in 2016 vowed to uphold these punitive measures in the future. But, it said, the “warm” diplomatic relationship with North Korea would also remain strong.

There’s the national history museum, the presidential palace, the defence headquarters and the munitions factory. They were built — or are still being constructed — by North Korea, for a lot of profit.

For years, North Korea has used African nations like this one as financial lifelines, building infrastructure and selling weapons and other military equipment as sanctions mounted against its authoritarian regime.

Although China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, the smaller African revenue streams have helped support the country, even as its leaders develop an ambitious nuclear weapons program in defiance of the international community.

A United Nations inquiry also described North Korean military radio equipment headed to Eritrea, automatic weapons arriving in Congo and military trainers landing in Angola and Uganda, as some of the risks being taken by African countries to help North Korea fulfil satanic ambitions.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the report said. It went on to describe how “the country also uses its construction companies that are active in Africa to build arms-related, military and security facilities,” the report read in part.

North Korea’s commercial relationships are only one sign of the surprisingly close ties many African leaders have with the secretive, highly repressive Asian country.

In recent years, African countries have struggled to maintain their ties to North Korea without alienating the United States, the largest aid donor on the continent, or publicly violating U.N. sanctions aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The United Nations has barred countries from contracting with North Korea for military training or services or arms manufacturing.

“Pyongyang’s ties to Africa allow it to show it still has friends abroad and benefit from their political support. They also represent a source of revenue, new entry points into the international financial system, and a haven in which to base North Korean representatives and front companies,” said Andrea Berger, a North Korean expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

The Namibian government has spent about $100 million on North Korean projects since 2002, according to officials  — a sum that goes a long way in an Asian nation where per capita income is about $1,000 per year. But in comparison, China imports about $3 billion in North Korean goods per year.

In Dakar, Senegal’s capital, a soaring, North Korea-built statue — larger than the Statue of Liberty — rises from a hilltop, depicting a man holding a baby in one arm and embracing a woman with the other. When the statue was unveiled, it angered many people in the Muslim-majority nation, as the woman was scarcely clad. Other statutes, mostly of African revolutionary leaders, were sold to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Benin and Congo.  But UN sanctions introduced in 2016 barred countries from buying any more such statues.

One of the biggest projects is the war memorial outside of Windhoek, where a towering bronze statue of an unknown soldier carrying a rifle stands in front of a slim obelisk. On a recent sunny afternoon, there were no visitors at the park, and one guard slept on the steps. A military base built by North Korea for North Korea is also situated nearby.

North Korea’s self-serving presence in Africa is difficult to ignore.

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