Uncovering North Korean forced labour in Africa: towards a research framework

The footprints of the North Korean influence can be found all over Africa, most clearly in the form of monuments, museums and government buildings constructed by forced labourers. Such prominent projects are potent symbols of African nationalism while they simultaneously adopt the socialist realist visual style that is predominant in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. It makes them highly recognizable markers. Less visible, however, is the forced labour that precedes the joyful opening of a new monument, museum or government building.

Since the scrutiny of North Korean forced labour in Africa is in its early stage, the main purpose of this chapter is to sketch a framework for future research. First, it is vital to understand the historical context of North Korean  activities in Africa. The seeds of the fruitful cooperation between the DPRK and African countries were sown during the liberation struggles that raged across the continent between the 1960s and 1990s. The subsequent paragraph embraces a single case study, namely Zimbabwe, to highlight this relationship. Finally, the foundations for a research framework are laid out in the third part, with special attention to methodology and sources. A number of preliminary findings  serve as a conclusion. 
This is a chapter in the preliminary report People For Profit, North Korean Forced Labour On A Global Scale, edited by Remco Breuker & Imke van Gardingen, Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden 2018.

Read the report.
Photo: The African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, Wikimedia Commons

Author(s) / editor(s)

Tycho van der Hoog

About the author(s) / editor(s)

Tycho van der Hoog (graduate of the Research Master in African Studies) is a junior researcher at the ASCL. He is developing his own research program on North Korea’s historical presence in Africa.