Why the Enduring Admiration for Lee Kuan Yew

Article excerpt

Lee Kuan Yew (pictured right), the founding president of Singapore, succeeded partly because he combined a rare intellectual capacity with an equally rare executive capacity, which usually exclude one another. For now, writes Dr Moses Anafu, the people of Singapore have accepted a tight discipline as the price of prosperitu. But what happens when the system is no longer in a position to deliver its side of the bargain? How do they manage the rush into "freedom" when the constraints on society are removed?

For now, writes Dr Moses Anafu, the people of Singapore have accepted a tight discipline as the price of prosperity. But what happens when the system is no longer in a position to deliver its side of the bargain? How do they manage the rush into "freedom" when the constraints on society are removed?

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I FIRST CAME ACROSS LEE KUAN Yew's name in 1968 while reading Kwame Nkrumah's book. Dark Days in Ghana. In the immediate wake of the 24 February 1966 coup that overthrew him, Nkrumah received many messages of support from all over the world. Only a representative sample of these letters was published in the book.

Written in the heat and passion of the moment, most of them were a shade too emotional, a few were outright hysterical. In this medley, the statement by Lee Kuan Yew, the then president of Singapore, struck me as a piece apart. It was short and written with a judicial calm.

Lee began his statement by saying that it had taken him two weeks to compose his thoughts. He had visited Nkrumah's Ghana on two occasions and did not "believe that [the] political changeover has written finis to the chapter of what has gone before". He went on: "The Ghanaians arc a vigorous and lively people and they deserve all the vision and leadership which you strove to give them, to make Ghana into a strong modern part of an Africa whose unity you have always espoused... May what you stand for, a united Africa and a great Ghana, triumph and flourish".

No other statement of solidarity in the book could match Lee's in gtandeur, genuineness and beauty of simplicity. Who was this Far Eastern leader, I began to wonder, who could write so well-meaningly abouc our country and its future? At the time and given where I was, I could find no material to hand which might have enlightened me abouc Lee himself or his country, Singapore, until I came to England.

In the Cambridge of the 1970s, it was still possible co run into people who had been Lee's contemporaries at Cambridge University and who had stayed on to pursue academic careers. Such people invariably spoke of Lee's academic record with undisguised awe and admiration.

This was hardly surprising - he had carried off all the prizes and wound up with a rarity called a starred first in the final law exams, "fhe more I heard, the more I wanted to know about this clearly fascinating individual.

Then, at the beginning of 1979, I joined the Political Affairs Division (PAD) of the Commonwealth Sectecariat and began co attend the biennial Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM). I was one of chose Secretariat officials with direct responsibility for the record of the Meetings, and in effect I had a ringside seat at che proceedings, a privileged opportunity to hear Commonwealth leaders viva voce.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings were in a class of their own. Everything about them - from the seating arrangements right down to the use of first names, was designed to facilitate a genuine exchange of views. Documentation was kept to a minimum and reading out speeches from prepared texts strenuously discouraged. In the result, debates at the summits were models of cheir kind. The meecings threw up a number of stars hue for the putposes of this piece, I will confine myself to some of the most outstanding of these leaders.

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From the old Commonwealth there was Pierre Trudeau of Canada, as Intellectually brilliant as he was physically handsome. …