Lee Kuan Yew's legacy: right and wrong lessons.

Author:Mills, Greg

Singapore's transformation from Third World to First stands out as a model to African countries. Still, there Is a danger that African leaders may take the wrong lessons from Singapore's success. Greg Mills examines this Issue.

Singapore's lessons for Africa

Still, there is a danger that Africans, especially their leaders, may take the wrong lessons from Singapore's success.

In 2008, when I was working for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, I was asked to prepare a summary of Singapore's key lessons. It seemed the island-state, despite obvious differences to landlocked Rwanda, was an attractive development analogue.

Like its South-east Asian counterpart, Rwanda is small, densely populated and largely without resources. Both have had to confront crises. While Lee steered Singapore from the political turmoil of the failure of the Malaysian Federation in 1965, Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front had taken over amidst extraordinary crisis in 1994, with genocide, a terrible failure in controlling ethnic and racial diversity--a scenario that Singapore has also had to manage.

A combination of the orderly discipline of Singaporeans, their leadership and bureaucracy, with a catalytic role for the state in business, such as through the $180bn Singapore sovereign wealth investment company Temasek Holdings, potentially offered another more interventionist development route to that preferred by Western donors.

Singapore's mandatory Central Provident Fund savings scheme, promoted by Lee, enabling the construction of housing and home ownership on a grand scale, also seemingly offered a way around the chronically low savings rate in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa.

Kagame seemed among those leaders who, admirably from this author's vantage point, like Lee, was concerned with the finest detail of government, leaving nothing to chance.

Certainly, there is much to learn from Singapore's rapid transition from a malaria-ridden swamp to an innovation and technology leader. By 1970, just five years on from independence, Singapore's per capita GDP had increased to $950, and unemployment was under 3 per cent. By the turn of the century, per capita GDP was $24,000; in the five decades since independence, per capita GDP has increased no less than thirteen-fold in real terms.

Danger of wrong lessons

There is, regardless, a danger that Africans may routinely take the wrong lessons from Lee and from Singapore.

The first of such "wrong lessons" would be that an authoritarian...

To continue reading