Pyongyang's bid to intensify diplomatic ties with African states has drawn a lot of attention this year. The North Korean Central News Agency reported that on August 10, a delegation headed by Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun visited several countries in Africa. But the state media did not elaborate on their schedule or the list of states.
On August 2, the Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, including Kim Ki-nam, a member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee, visited Equatorial Guinea. During the visit Secretary Kim met with Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, the president of Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea, and delivered an International Kim Jong-il Prize. The prize was established in December 2012 in order to commemorate Kim Jong-il’s inauguration as Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army 21 years ago. The president of Equatorial Guinea became the first person to be awarded the prize.
This year saw a continuous stream of senior North Korean officials visiting Africa. But the government and the military have also been paying state visits.
The reason for the North's effort to enhance diplomatic relations with states in Africa is that, since numerous economic sanctions have been blocking economic cooperation with the outside, it is looking for a breakthrough in collaboration with African countries.
An August 9 article titled "Unity and cooperation is the main driving force of building a new independent society" in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, said that South-South cooperation is the trend of the times, and bolstering unity and cooperation between developing countries is the only way to strengthen national power.
In particular, the country with the fourth largest army in the world seems to be paying attention to the potential for economic growth of the continent. On June 23, the paper stressed that African countries have huge growth potential thanks to abundant human and natural resources such as oil and rare metals.
North Korea also appears to be taking notice of African nations' elevated position in the international arena, including the UN. The state paper reported that in the international stage, developing countries have grown in stature, resulting in South-South cooperation.
In fact, the North’s relationships with African states date back to the Kim Il-sung era.
In the 1970s, the North began to actively participate in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) while advocating anti-imperialist self-reliance. With the notion of anti-imperialist self-reliance and its focus on anti-US sentiment, it tried to create an international anti-US solidarity movement.
Kim Gye-dong, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, "Pyongyang has been engaged in diplomacy with Africa for a long time," adding, "Notwithstanding NAM's irrelevance after the Cold War, the diplomacy appears to still exist."
But Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, pointed out, "The North's relationships with countries in Africa are merely perfunctory, since it cannot provide economic assistance in the post-Cold War era."