Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Third Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit


Third Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit

Third Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit
Photo credit: Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

12 Ministers from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda called on Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Tuesday.

The Ministers were in Singapore from 27-28 August 2018 to attend the Third Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit hosted by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

During the call, PM re-affirmed Singapore’s commitment to strengthening ties with Sub-Saharan Africa. PM and the Ministers also discussed ways to harness the power of technology and innovation to further economic growth, prepare our youths for jobs of the future, and create sustainable and liveable cities and communities.

PM also noted Africa’s positive growth trajectory and commitment to greater economic integration, and encouraged both sides to seize the growing economic opportunities in our respective countries and regions.

The Ministers expressed appreciation for Singapore’s continued efforts in sharing its developmental experience through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). Since its inception in 1992, over 9,000 officials from across Africa have participated in SCP training courses in areas such as urban management, economic development, and public administration.

Welcome Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan

A very warm and sunny good morning to all of you. We have arranged for the sunshine and the skylight here as a symbol of the warm relations between Singapore and Africa!

Welcome to the third iteration of the Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa High-Level Ministerial Exchange Visit. We are very honoured that this time we have Ministers from twelve countries across Africa. I know many of you have made a long journey, some taking up to fifteen to twenty hours.

Singapore-Sub-Saharan Africa Relations

Singapore’s engagement of Africa has been longstanding. In 1964, even before Singapore’s independence, when Singapore was still part of Malaysia, our first Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, led a mission to Africa to explain the concept of Malaysia to our African friends.  In that trip, he visited 17 African capitals over 35 days – a hectic schedule that so far has not yet been surpassed by anyone here.

In 1965, when we achieved independence, we were gratified that many of our African friends and leaders – many of whom had in fact just gained independence or were in the midst of their own independence struggles, stood in solidarity with Singapore, a tiny island city state.

Opportunities and Challenges in Africa

The world has changed radically since then. We have seen Africa develop at an impressive pace, and demonstrate incredible potential. Within the next two decades, Africa will possess the world’s youngest population. By 2030, Africa’s GDP is expected to reach US$3 trillion, buoyed by a rising middle class with strong consumption and of course, a very young, productive population.

However, the challenges confronting Africa are also more complex today.  With over half of Africa’s population set to urbanise by 2050, urbanisation will be both an opportunity as well as a key challenge that many governments would have to face.

In fact, sustainable development is a universal imperative. A key political question confronting all governments would be: how do we ensure economic growth, how do we provide decent work, with good pay, and how do we develop sustainable smart cities, to meet the rising aspirations of our citizens?

Overview of 3rd Exchange Visit

This is why the theme for this year’s Exchange Visit, which is “Singapore and Africa: Partners for Smart Cities”, is so apt.

Building a smart city is not just about providing infrastructure or Internet connectivity. It is about harnessing the new tools that the digital revolution is providing in order to improve living standards for every single citizen, to expand economic opportunities in new industries, and while all this is happening, to also maintain a cohesive and sustainable sense of community amongst all our citizens.

This is why we have structured your visit around three of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These three goals are: first, decent work and economic growth; second, industry, innovation, and infrastructure; and third, sustainable cities and communities.

Singapore’s own development story underscores the salience of these three themes. When independence was thrust upon us in 1965, we faced many existential challenges. We are a tiny island, we had no natural resources, unlike almost all of you in Africa, and we had lost our hinterland. We had to build our armed forces, attract investments, create jobs, house our population, educate our young, and to do all these urgently and simultaneously. The future was uncertain, and many were sceptical that Singapore could survive on its own, let alone thrive. But our leaders and people understood the need to look beyond these immediate and urgent problems, but also to prepare for a more distant future and to have a vision. They did so with “sustainable development” in mind, long before sustainable development became popular, or enshrined in the United Nations agenda.

You need to understand that Singapore is an incredibly tiny “barren rock” – which has to create jobs, food, water and opportunities for five and a half million people. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. What you see in Singapore is the result of necessity, but it has been a response based on imagination. Indeed, what you see all around you here is in a sense an act of desperate imagination, in order to overcome our existential challenges.

At 700 square km, Singapore could easily fit into one of the lakes in Africa. That is why land is so precious to us and why therefore we are obsessive about master planning every square foot of our precious, small, tiny island. Our existential shortage of land and water also meant that we could not afford to pollute our surroundings. Mr Lee Kuan Yew insisted that we plant trees, maintain clean streets, and clean up the heavily-polluted Singapore River – which in the decades past was in fact an open sewer. Today, you will spend some time on the river, and you will be amazed at the transformation.

But again, the point was that all this was done because we had to overcome existential challenges. Hence you see well-regulated environments, you see detailed plans and you see how pollutive industries have been phased out, transferred or re-created so that they no longer pollute the environment, the air, and the water that we depend on. So today, Singapore is a liveable and sustainable city. It houses five and a half million residents, and our people enjoy a high quality of life despite a high population density.

Also in this day and age, people are worried about re-employment. It is well worth remembering that a dense, compact city in fact has to ensure an equally high standard of environment, hygiene, healthcare and opportunity for everyone. Another aspect beyond the environment and sustainable development is the fact that practically the most crucial ingredient to success is people, and the quality of their minds and skills. Hence the need to create opportunities for people to thrive in. That is why our pioneer leaders saw and recognised the need to have a skilled, technically proficient workforce. This is why we will bring you to visit the Institute of Technical Education tomorrow. You will see that it is not just a matter of what we provide for the top five percent of academic high performers, but the degree to which we have invested in ensuring that everyone will have opportunities and skills relevant for future jobs. This is even more salient when we now live in and confront the digital revolution, making it all the more important to ensure that no one gets left behind. So what you will see in Singapore is a continuous, dedicated and concerted effort on skills training, and upgrading so that everyone can move ahead.

I think that this is also relevant for Africa as well. Africa has also been working to leapfrog the limitations of the last Industrial Revolution, and take advantage of the new opportunities that the digital revolution provides. We learned about mobile payment systems such as M-Pesa which are already widely used in Africa, and I have also been reading about the increasing use of block chain technology to facilitate more secure business transmissions.

As we seek to build “Smart Cities” in both Singapore and Africa, we believe our people will be the foundation of a vibrant and innovative digital economy, and this will ultimately be critical to ensuring economic competitiveness of our countries, and also to reduce inequality.

Singapore Cooperation Programme and Africa

We believe that no single country, let alone a tiny city-state, has a monopoly on the answers to the challenges we face. We also do not believe that there is a single universal model of development that is applicable to all. All of us have our own unique history, geography, societies, and our own unique set of challenges. We believe that by coming together, on occasions like this, we can exchange ideas and perspectives, synthesise them and come up with something that works in our own unique national circumstances.

For this reason, we have sought to share our own development journey through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) over many decades. In fact, since 1992, over 120,000 officials from 170 countries, including 9,000 from Africa, have attended our SCP courses. We continue to welcome your officials to participate – our doors remain open.

Singapore is also working with UN-Habitat to organise the International Leaders in Urban Governance Programme (iLUGP). This programme brings together federal- to municipal-level leaders from various African countries, including experts from UN-Habitat, and experienced practitioners from the Singapore Government for a vibrant exchange of ideas on key urban issues including sustainable environment and dynamic urban governance. In fact, Singapore is hosting the second run of the programme this week and this is an opportunity for me to acknowledge and welcome all the iLUGP participants to Singapore.

Deepening Economic Relations

I am happy to note that since the last Exchange Visit in 2016, our economic ties have further deepened. Singapore’s trade with Africa has grown exponentially: it is now US$8 billion in 2017, a 13 percent increase from the year before. But frankly, these trade figures are nowhere near their true potential. To this end, we have put in place several economic frameworks with several of our close African partners, such as Bilateral Investment Treaties and Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements, in order to open up more business opportunities and to encourage more investments both ways. Singapore is also hosting the 5th Africa-Singapore Business Forum tomorrow, which since 2010, has brought together more than 2,000 business and government leaders from over 30 countries to explore opportunities and partnerships between Singapore and Africa.

Singapore has also been strengthening our air and maritime linkages to Africa. For now, Singapore only has direct flights to three African countries – South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mauritius. I hope that by the time we host the 4th Exchange Visit, we will see more connections to Africa, making it easier for you and your colleagues to visit again. It should not take fifteen to twenty hours in the future!


In the coming days, my Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Cabinet colleagues and officials are looking forward to meeting all of you. You will also make several site visits, which have been specially selected to showcase Singapore’s use of new and innovative technologies in order to promote sustainable development, in areas such as education, housing, industry, and tourism. I hope that beyond your formal programmes you will also have sufficient free time to walk around and get a feel of the place and to understand Singaporeans and our attitude to life.

I just want to end with one of my favourite anecdotes. Years ago, I was on a boat with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. This was before the Marina Barrage was built, and we were sailing into Marina Bay and saw our beautiful landscape. I asked Mr Lee, “When you see our city, this beautiful, magnificent city, what goes through your mind?” I hoped that he would give me some poetic line to summarise what he felt. He just looked at me in his usual direct way and said, “A hardworking and disciplined people built all this”. As we wander through the streets of Singapore, we all have a deep sense of gratitude to the pioneers, but also remember that a hardworking and disciplined people built all this.

Thank you all very much, and welcome to Singapore.


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