Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Things You Learn

From Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs, it would seem that Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first post-independence ruler, and Alhaji Abukakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria's first prime minister after independence, were very close friends. I suppose their joint association in the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) must have had something to do with this. What is more interesting still is Lee Kuan Yew's favorable description of his visit to Lagos, which he thought in much better shape than Nkrumah's Accra, and worthy of comparison with Singapore. How times change!

UPDATE: I also have to include this snippet from Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs, as it shows how perceptive his understanding of the problems plaguing the newly independent African countries was:

I had received an unforgettable lesson in decolonisation, on how crucial it was to have social cohesion and capable, effective government to take over from the colonial authority, especially in Africa. When the leader did not preserve the unity of the country by sharing power with the chiefs of the minor tribes, but excluded them, the system soon broke down. Worse, when misguided policies based on half-digested theories of socialism and redistribution of wealth were compounded by less than competent government, societies formerly held together by colonial government splintered, with appalling consequences.*

Say what you like about the man, but his analysis here is spot on. There really isn't any mystery to the problems African countries are having, and one doesn't have to look to unfounded nonsense about African subhuman intelligence to understand what went wrong: as Lee Kuan Yew himself mentions, many of the first African leaders, like Sekou Toure and Julius Nyerere, were extremely intelligent individuals, well read and thoroughly versed in the ways of the world. LSE-inspired marxism and the artificial natures of the African states were the root causes of the disasters that subsequently unfoled.

In a way, I'm not surprised that Lee picked up on something a lot of lazy people looking for shortcuts to understanding have failed to, as the one thread that runs through his entire book is the prime role ethnic tension has played in the difficulties Singapore has had to face in its short history. First there was tension between whites and English-speaking Chinese and Chinese-speaking Chinese, and later there was tension between Singapore's Chinese majority and Malaya's ethnic Malays, eventually boiling over into ethnic riots on more than one occasion. If anyone was well placed to understand the importance of ethnic cohesion to nation building, Lee Kuan Yew was, for his little island would never have enjoyed the success it later did had it come fully under the thumb of Tunku Abdul Rahman's UMNO.

* Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, Chapter 34, 1999, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0130208035.