North Korea’s artistic charm offensive in Africa

A delegation from North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has visited Angola in an effort to expand bilateral ties and carry out the groundwork for joint construction projects, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported.

The delegation, led by Ho Yong Bok, the director general for Africa, Arab and Latin America, met Angela Braganca, the state secretary for cooperation, to discuss collaboration on construction projects, as well as public health and IT.

KCNA quoted Angolan officials as saying that "Angola, as a friend who has stood in the same trench with the DPRK in the joint struggle, expresses full support for the Korean people in their efforts to defend the sovereignty of the country and achieve its peaceful reunification".

Last September, a South Korean trade mission was also received by Ms Braganca.

Ho’s delegation has already made diplomatic overtures to Ethiopia this year, and in April last year a team led by Sin Hong Chol, the vice-minister of foreign affairs, visited Algeria and Mauritania.

North Korea’s main international construction arm is the contractor Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP). This entity undertakes conventional construction schemes, but specialises in public artworks such as statues and monuments.

The Three Chiefs statue in Botswana (US Army)

It is the international division of the Mansudae Art Studio. The studio employs around 4,000 workers and is sometimes referred to as the "world’s biggest art factory".

MOP’s most famous commission was the recreation of Frankfurt’s art nouveau Fairy Tale Fountain – a metal sculpture that was melted down in the Second World War and had to be recreated from photographs, however it has also undertaken a number of monumental works across Africa.

These include the African Renaissance Monument outside Dakar in Senegal (pictured), the Three Chiefs monument in Botswana, the Samora Machel statue in Mozambique and the Laurent Kabila statue in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The most controversial of its schemes was a Bulawayo statue of Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union: thousands of his followers had been killed by troops trained by North Korean advisers. This statue had to be removed after a public outcry.

North Korea’s actions on the international stage are scrutinised by a UN Panel of Experts (PoE), which monitors the enforcement of Security Council sanctions against it. The export of statues is presently banned by resolution 2321.

Angolan authorities told the PoE that MOP had been involved in 56 construction projects until February 2015. In September of 201 the PoE observed that MOP was continuing some project, and was employing North Korean personnel to work on them.

Top image: MOP’s 49m high African Renaissance statue in Senegal (Breitlinger/Creative Commons)

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