• South Korea is a major foreign investor in Rwanda’s blossoming tech scene
  • The two countries share geographical features and have similar recent histories, which has helped foster a mutual understanding
  • KT Corporation, the first South Korean company in Rwanda, has plans to use its base in the country as a hub from which to expand further into Africa

While China snakes its influence in technology across the African continent, one of its smaller neighbors has also been making inroads in countries far from home. South Korea, one of the Far East’s technological powerhouses, claims to have a stronghold in the central African country of Rwanda.

The unlikely story begins with KT Corporation (KT), a South Korean telecoms giant, which started helping to form the backbone to Rwanda’s communications infrastructure a decade ago. The state-owned company currently builds and operates ICT services in Rwanda’s public and private markets, and provides a 4G service in partnership with the Rwandan government.

Surprising common ground

Korea re-opened its embassy in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in 2011 after closure due to conflict. “Surprisingly there is a great deal of common ground between the two countries,” Lee Dong Ku, deputy chief of mission at the Korean embassy in Rwanda, told CNBC.

South Korea shares a common geography and history with Rwanda which sets the relationship apart from other international players. For starters, both countries are small and mountainous with few natural resources, which in turn means a greater focus on innovation.
South Korea and Rwanda have also both suffered under colonial rule and experienced devastating conflict following independence: the Korean war of the early 1950s and Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsi tribe. “This shared experience in modern history strikes a chord with Korean people,” Lee said.

Rwandans in turn look towards South Korea’s “quick recovery from conflict,” and “fast-paced socio-economic development,” Claudette Irere, director general for ICT at Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and ICT, told CNBC.

According to a profile of Rwanda’s ICT sector released in December 2015, the field recorded an average growth that year of 16 percent, steaming ahead of the rest of the economy which grew at 6.9 percent. In 2015, the ICT sector contributed 3 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

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