I was among a group of African journalists invited by Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry for a whistle-stop tour of this tiny country that packs a gigantic economic wallop.
The African Journalist Visit Programme (AJVP) has become a regular feature preceding the biannual Africa-Singapore Business Forum, which this time takes place on 28-29 August.
The idea is to invite journalists from targeted African countries and introduce them to the political and philosophical underpinnings of what is still regarded as the world's 'miracle economy' and to meet with the top echelon of various companies that either do business with Africa or are seeking to do so.
In short, the aim of the AJVP is to reach out to African governments and entrepreneurs via the media, and whet their appetite for what Singapore can offer to Africa in terms of innovative services and consultancies--and encourage attendance at the Singapore-Africa Business Forum, where hopefully interest can be converted into deals.
The first Business Forum was held in 2010 and hosted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry through International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, its trade, investment and 'thought-leadership' arm. IE Singapore became Enterprise Singapore in April this year following the merger of IE Singapore with SPRING, which focused on supporting start-ups and SMEs and helping companies achieve international standards.
Since its slightly hesitant start in 2010, the Forum has delivered excellent returns, attracting over 2,000 business leaders from 30 countries to explore partnerships with Singapore companies and agencies.
According to Kelvin Tan, secretary-general of the Africa South-East Asia Chamber of Commerce, total bilateral trade between Singapore and Africa stands at $6.85bn while the stock of direct investments in the continent are around $18.5bn.
The steady maturing of relations between Singapore and Africa has been a source of considerable satisfaction for us at IC Publications. We were involved with the Forum from the start and I made my first eye-opening visit to the island nation as the editor of African Business magazine, as I was then.
Astonishing first visit
I vividly recall my astonishment that accompanied that first visit. The degree of development, the innovative solutions to what were essentially developing world problems and the efficiency that pervaded virtually all sectors of society that I witnessed was astounding.
It was difficult to believe that Singapore gained its independence from British rule only in 1963 and immediately joined Malaysia as a modus vivendi since it had virtually no resources of its own, and faced a bleak future as the various ethnicities that comprised its population squared off to scramble for whatever little was available.
It was expelled from Malaysia two years later and found itself isolated in the Malacca Straits, left to sink or swim. It decided to swim and set into motion one of the greatest transformations in modern history. In 1965, Singapore's GDP per capita was just $500; in 2017, this had increased more than 100-fold, reaching $56,000.
It has achieved this through various stratagems although everyone, from government ministers to taxi drivers, will tell you that the nation's road to success as been...