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The Connection Between North Korea and Africa

30 March 2022

Meet Tycho van der Hoog, PhD candidate at the African Studies Centre Leiden (Leiden University). He is currently working on his PhD project ‘Blood, Bullets and Bronze: North Korea in Southern Africa, 1960-2020’, in which he researches the relationship between North Korea and liberation movements in southern Africa. In 2021, Van der Hoog won the BISA African Affairs Postgraduate Paper Prize for his paper on the military alliance between North Korea and southern African countries.

When he started studying Van der Hoog had no intention of focusing on Africa or North Korea. Van der Hoog had a broad interest in history and politics and therefore decided to obtain bachelor degrees in History and Political Science at Leiden University. During his studies, he discovered that Africa was often overlooked, which brought out a natural curiosity in him. Following this interest, he continued his studies at Leiden University with a master in History and a research master in African Studies. While writing his research master's thesis on the history of beer in Namibia, Van der Hoog traveled to Windhoek, where he came across a North Korean museum. In this museum, African nationalism merged with North Korean socialist realism, which sparked his interest in the relationship between North Korea and Africa. In the LeidenGlobal photo exhibition ‘Heritage on the Move’ Van der Hoog’s photograph shows a North Korean monument in Zimbabwe, which serves as an example of North Korean influence in Africa.

After his masters, Van der Hoog decided to continue researching this topic as it continued to interest him. He started a four-year PhD project at the African Studies Center Leiden, which he will be working on for another year. According to Van der Hoog, the relationship between North Korea and Africa has barely been studied, and existing scholarship focuses entirely on a North Korean perspective. During his PhD project, he wants to explore African agency in order to understand what African governments gain from their ties with North Korea and, more importantly, how African leaders influence their relationship with Pyongyang.

According to Van der Hoog, the reason that we have never looked at this relationship from an African perspective stems from a form of Eurocentrism in which Africa is often seen as a passive actor and the receiving side of a relationship. This is incorrect because African countries have agency and consciously choose to forge a relationship with North Korea. In addition to exposing the relationship between African states and North Korea, his PhD project also contradicts the assumption of African passivity, and shows that many non-Western countries do not see North Korea as a scary or strange country, but as an example of strength and leadership. In an episode of the Korea Now Podcast he talks about his PhD project.

Van der Hoog is a new member of Faces of Science, a forum for young PhD candidates, in which he wants to show through blogs and video what it means to do research, with the aim to get people interested in science. His future is still undecided, he knows that he wants to continue in the field of research, but for now he focuses on finishing his PhD project.

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Jade

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Photo by Simone Both

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