Singapore's visionary draws followers in Africa

Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:23am EDT
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By Edmund Blair and Clement Uwiringiyimana

NAIROBI/KIGALI (Reuters) - Few world leaders transform their own nations, let alone create a model that dozens of other countries seek to emulate. Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who died this week aged 91, did both.

The economic miracle he masterminded is regularly cited by world leaders. And for many poorer nations in Africa and elsewhere, the Asian state offered lessons that were not imposed by institutions such as the World Bank or cooked up by former colonial powers.

Rwanda has come as close as any in Africa to emulating Singapore's rags-to-riches rise, though not in the same spectacular style -- annual per capita income is still roughly 100th that of the Asian state's.

The landlocked nation of 10 million people boasts years of sturdy economic growth, pristine streets and donor praise, although critics of President Paul Kagame's government say gains have come at the cost of political freedom.

"Beating the odds is a challenge we Rwandans and Singaporeans share," Kagame told Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, on a visit to the Asian state in 2008, calling it "an inspiration for us in Rwanda."

Rwandan officials say they studied the Asian state for ideas, examining its city planning and the way it built up new skills and trained its civil servants. But they try to avoid direct comparisons, given the vast differences.

Lee built up a colonial trading port located on major shipping lanes. Kagame's challenge after the 1994 genocide was to find a way to rebuild a nation lying 1,000 km (620 miles) from the coast that was torn apart by a killing spree in which 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.

"We have been looking very attentively at the Singapore model," said Shyaka Anastase, chief executive officer of the Rwanda Governance Board, whose role includes measuring government service delivery using detailed scorecards.   Continued...