[A Guest From Africa]
1. President Musaveni from Uganda is here on an official visit. I attended President Nathan's lunch for him today. He is a strong leader who put the country right after Idi Amin's years of terror and misgovernance. It is his first visit to Singapore. He asked President Nathan many questions about how MM Lee Kuan Yew set Singapore on the path of development. He was eager to develop stronger economic links between our two countries.
2. Later this year, PM Lee will be visiting Uganda (capital Kampala) for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). I have no doubt that President Musaveni will be an able Chairman. Yesterday, when the Foreign Minister called on me at MFA, we talked about the first CHOGM held outside London in Singapore in 1971. Then President Obote was deposed in a coup while he was in Singapore for that meeting. I remember, as a 17 year-old Pre-U student, standing outside the Singapore Conference Hall watching all those foreign leaders stream in in their motorcades.
3. While Singapore made astonishing progress since 1971, Uganda and many other parts of Africa regressed tragically. There are many explanations why Africa went backwards while East Asia surged forward in the last 30 years. There is no doubt that leadership has been a critical factor. In terms of the human-resource ratio, Africa with its vast expanse of land, is much better off.
4. At the end of the lunch, I asked President Musaveni a personal question. There were four of them - Musaveni, Kagame of Rwanda, Afwerti of Eritrea and Zenawi of Ethiopia - who knew each other and represented a new generation of strong leaders in East Africa. One African minister told me a couple of years ago that these four men could have taken over the whole of Africa. It was a romatic period. But they fell out. Musaveni and Kagame fought each other; so too Afwerti and Zenawi. I asked President Musaveni what happened? He was honest and humble in his reply. He said that they were a new group who were not beholden to vested interests or to the Western powers. Together, they were able to resist Arab pressure from the North. Now they have to learn to develop their national economies. On his way back, he was stopping a day in Eritrea to mediate that country's conflict with Ethiopia. I wished him well. Thinking I was Buddhist, he said that Buddhist prayers might help.
Photo credit: The Sunday Times, Singapore Press Holdings
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