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Lee Kuan Yew – a metaphor of effective governance

Not since the deaths of former Soviet Union leader, Boris Yeltsin and anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, in our modern times have so many world leaders gathered for the funeral of a world leader as happened for the burial of Lee Kuan Yew, former Singapore leader for over 31 years who passed on   last March, aged 91.
About 170 foreign dignitaries from 27 countries, regions and international organizations attended the four-day lying-in-state for late Yew at the Parliament House, the State Funeral Organizing Committee said Sunday, March 29.. Many more attended the state funeral service, Sunday.
Visitors included former United States President Bill Clinton, Vice President of China Li Yuanchao and former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had earlier visited the Parliament House to pay respects to Mr Yew.
Nearly all the dignitaries at the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew had good things to say about the departed leader.
That huge show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore and its 5.5 million people. The island nation is today known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance centre with a strict social order that includes a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes. All these happened because of the far-sightedness of Mr Yew
Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990.
He is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious relations among ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian populations. But as critics point out, his authoritarian rule and crushing of dissent also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy.
“Many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation-building and policymaking. This is why Mr. Yew is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes,” many say.
Yew’s achievements and legacy are likely to be argued for years.
After its split in 1965 from a short-lived and acrimonious federation with Malaysia, Singapore’s future was highly uncertain. It lacked natural resources, having to import even water, and was surrounded by hostile neighbours.
In control of all policy levers, Lee and his government obliterated independent trade unions, imprisoned political opponents, reconfigured the education system to produce workers who met the needs of foreign investors and pushed through other changes to make the island competitive.
Today, Singapore’s GDP is among the highest in the world at $54,000 per head, according to the World Bank, and it consistently ranks at the top of surveys of competiveness, while other Southeast Asian nations lag far behind.
In his entire rule, Kissinger recalled, Yew never came and said: ‘You have to do this or that. He was never a lobbyist,” said Dr Kissinger, adding:. “I think Lee Kuan Yew was a great man.  So, I will miss him, but more important, the world will miss him.”
Though many still scoff at Yew’s “soft” or “pragmatic authoritarianism”, Singaporeans and many in the civilized world history have given him the benefit of the doubt considering the common good he achieved for his people.
This will be a far cry from how history will remember other Third-World leaders whose nations and countries were in comparable level of development in the 1960s but who had grounded their countries and citizens to the dust of poverty and hopelessness.
Perhaps, African leaders and rulers should borrow a leaf from the life and times of the Singaporean-Chinese who, in about only three decades, transformed his island country from the third to the first world.

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