Rural poverty has been a persistent affliction faced by the majority of sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries.(2) It has hampered the development efforts of most of SSA and has invariably led to the proliferation of feelings of hopelessness and indifference among those afflicted by it. Arguably, a Weltanschauung – or world view – of hopelessness is not conducive to development. Development models such as the Institutional Reform Model, the Constitutional Politics Model, the Power-Sharing Model, and the State Deconstruction Model (3) have all failed to deliver SSA from rural poverty due to their disregard for the emotions and attitudes of the populace.
This CAI paper highlights the possibility of rapid rural development within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through a discussion of the success of the Saemaul Undong initiative with eradicating rural poverty in South Korea. Parts of the DRC have recently adopted the said initiative and produced some progress. The Saemaul Undong initiative therefore holds much potential for the African continent’s future.
Saemaul Undong in South Korea
Countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan managed to free themselves from rural poverty despite being on relatively equal terms with SSA in the 1950’s.(4) South Korea did so despite the devastation of the Korean War, through the adoption of rural village programmes.(5) South Korea initiated Saemaul Undong (새마을 운동) (6) in the 1970’s (7) while a similar idea, the ‘One Village, One Product’ Movement, was conceived in Japan.(8) South Korea’s Saemaul Undong was particularly successful considering the context within which it occurred. Before the initiation of Saemaul Undong by the Park Chung-hee regime(9) in the 1950s and 1960s, the country was ravaged by rural poverty, and with the majority of the national population based on farms at the time, the effect of rural poverty was huge.(10) The consequent inequality between urban and rural areas increased the possibility of urban areas becoming increasingly unstable as much of the rural population swarmed to urban areas in search of better lives.(11)
Since South Korea lacks abundant natural resources, this was not a possible solution to rural poverty. The government of the time (12) was relatively destitute and foreign aid was insufficient.(13) Naturally, the rural population suffered from feelings of hopelessness and indifference. South Korea could only free itself from rural poverty through the awakening and participation of its population, specifically the rural population. Park Chung-hee’s government realised this and subsequently initiated Saemaul Undong with the hope of inspiring the rural population and thereby facilitating self-sustained progress within rural communities.(14) Saemaul Undong emphasised values like (1) diligence, which it contended would lead to sincerity and the awakening of a pioneer spirit, or the awakening of a strong will; (2) self-help, which it held would awaken a sense of responsibility, and communal and social responsibility by extension; and (3) cooperation, which it posited would lead to dispositions toward unity and efficiency being awakened.(15) The primary objectives were infrastructure building, spiritual enlightenment and social interaction, the improvement of living standards, and income increase.(16) A type of holistic education was hence emphasised.
The Park Chung-hee regime divided the project into three phases. Simple projects were allocated to villages in the first phase and a village chief was nominated. Projects were pushed through village meetings and distribution to individual households was banned: resources were communally owned. Villages were provided with various incentives to succeed, both communal and individual. Villages that performed well in the first phase were awarded with progressively more ambitious projects and greater resources. Government inspectors regularly visited villages to monitor progress. If a village was not making progress, aid would simply be cut.(17) Projects were primarily divided into environment, income increasing, productivity enhancement, and cultural projects. Factories, schools, libraries, and various community facilities, inter alia, were constructed. As villages advanced, inter-village cooperation became necessary. By the conclusion of the intitiative, rural poverty was almost completely eradicated: the vast majority of villages had moved from dependent to semi-dependent to virtually autonomous, or self-help, villages. (18,19) To highlight the success of Saemaul Undong, consider the statistics in Table 1 and 2.(20)
The Potential of Saemaul Undong in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Saemaul Undong was initiated in 2004 in the DRC by a DRC student, N’Kumu Frey Lungula, who was inspired in South Korea after getting acquainted with Saemaul Undong. The D.R. Congo Saemaul Undong Center was subsequently established in Kinshasa, after which N’Kumu Frey Lungula was quoted as saying that Saemaul Undong was the most suitable development model for the DRC. “As Korean people did, I envision that African people too can do it. In Korea we say, ‘Hamyeon Dwenda,’ so we can do it and that is my vision,”(21) he said. The DRC has, notably, witnessed an increase in quality of life and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) within participating regions since adopting Saemaul Undong.(22)
Today the D.R. Congo Saemaul Undong Center, classified as a non-governmental organisation and supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency, has approximately 1,075 members from Bas-Congo province, Bandundu province, Kinshasa, and seven other districts and 18 villages. The movement has been receiving significant support from South Korea.(23) The Korean Saemaul Undong Center has selected three villages to manage, namely, Kinseki II and Mbungu-Menga in Kasangulu Territory and Kinsendi in Madimba Territory.(24)
In a report released by N’Kumu Frey Lungula on 27 May 2009, he stated that, inter alia, (1) four villages have now united to become one village called ‘Kibueya’; (2) plantations have been created; (3) children are being afforded the opportunity to attend school; (4) more nutritious food is being eaten; (5) families are eating together; (6) villages no longer fear witchcraft; (7) accommodation has been improved – villagers build their own houses and through this (a) acquire certain skills and (b) own the capacity to transfer these skills to others; (8) certain health problems have lessened or disappeared due to cleaner villages; and (9) villagers are able to wear more beautiful cloth. Saemaul Undong is a “better way” to combat corruption, train leaders, facilitate good governance, create long-asting peace, embed a sense of ownership, and change the attitudes and mentality of villagers and leaders, Lungula wrote in a report.(25)
The Saemaul Undong movement initiated in the DRC has certainly achieved success that will hopefully spread in the future. Other states within SSA should definitely consider adopting some form of Saemaul Undong, as was done in the DRC. The fundamental aim and success of the initiative has certainly instilled hope in many DRC citizens – imagine what it can do for the rest of the continent.
(1) Contact Casper Hendrik Claassen through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Eyes on Africa Unit (email@example.com)
(2) Rodrik D. 1996. Understanding economic policy reform. Journal of Economic Literature, 34(1): p. 13.
(3) Agbese, P.A. & Kieh, G.K. 2007. ‘Introduction’, Reconstituting the State in Africa. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 14-19.
(4) Rodrik D. 1996. Understanding economic policy reform. Journal of Economic Literature, 34(1): p. 13. Significantly, this might be explained as being possible due to the relatively homogeneous societies of these countries as well as their deeply embedded cultures of education and learning. However, these are not the only factors to consider and they may potentially be bypassed.
(5) Park, S.Y. 2009. Analysis of Saemaul Undong: A Korean rural development programme in the 1970s. Asia-Pacific Development Journal, 16(2): p. 113.
(6) Translated as the ‘New Community Movement.’
(7) Douglass, M. 1983. ‘The Korean Saemaul Undong: Accelerated rural development in an open economy’, In Lea, A.M. & Chaudhri, D.P. (eds.), Rural Development and the State: Contradictions and dilemmas in developing countries. New York: Methuen & Co, p. 189.
(8) Knight, J. 1994. ‘Rural revitalization in Japan: Spirit of the village and taste of the country. Asian Survey, 34(7), p. 638.
(9) A regime which was neo-patrimonial to some extent. Neo-patrimonialism in the South Korean context allowed for rapid development, as opposed to the case of sub-Saharan Africa, which suggests that neo-patrimonialism does not, at least initially, necessarily stand opposed to economic and even social development.
(10) Ho, S.P.S. 1979. Rural-urban imbalance in South Korea in the 1970s. Asian Survey, 19(7), p. 646.
(12) Ibid. p. 647.
(13) Lockwood, M. 2005. States of Development. Prospect, http://www.energie-omd.org.
(14) Lee, M.S. 1990. Policy and rule configuration: Korean rural development movement Saemaul Undong. Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, 28-30, p.3.
(15) Ibid. p. 5.
(16) Ibid. p. 8.
(18) Ibid. p. 4-6.
(19) The 16 highest priority projects were: (1) village access roads to be straightened and widened, (2) old bridges over streams to be reconstructed, (3) village roads to be widened and straightened, (4) sewerage systems in village areas to be improved, (5) thatched roofs to be replaced by cement tiles, (6) old fences of farm houses to be repaired, (7) traditional wells for drinking water to be improved, (8) village halls to be constructed, (9) banks of brooks to be repaired, (10) feeder roads to fields to be developed, (11) rural electrification to be sped up, (12) village owned telephones installed, (13) village owned bathhouses to be built, (14) children’s playgrounds to be constructed, (15) washing places in riversides to be improved, (16) planting of trees and flowers for beautification. Keep in mind that such a project both instills certain values and creates a sense for the aesthetic.
(20) Park, S.Y. 2009. Analysis of Saemaul Undong: A Korean rural development programme in the 1970s. Asia-Pacific Development Journal, 16(2): p. 120.
(21) Choi, Y.S., ‘Creating a world bridge through Saemaul’, Arirang, 22 September 2009, http://www.arirang.co.kr.
(24) Heo, J., Song, J., Lee, D. & Kim, J. 2009. Design and preparation for the Saemaul Undong model village project in Africa. Korea Rural Economic Institute, October, http://www.krei.re.kr.
(25) Lungula, N.F. 2009. Saemaul Undong in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A Case Study). Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation, p.14, http://www.koafec.org.
Table 1: Ratio of rural household income to urban household income (in Korean won)
Source: Kwon, S. 1997. Korean experience in poverty alleviation with special reference to the Saemaul Undong. Social Security Review, Vol. 13(1): p. 194.
Table 2: Major achievements of some Saemaul Undong projects in the 1970’s