24 Mar 2015
Source: The National, 24 March 2015
The death of Lee Kuan Yew yesterday marked not just the passing of a respected and well-loved leader, it also marked the end of an era. Lee was the last of a generation of great statesmen who were born just after the First World War, lived through the tumult of the Great Depression and Second World War and emerged with a clear vision that drove their countries forward.
They include South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, the United States’ John F Kennedy and the UAE’s own Sheikh Zayed. While Kennedy’s tenure was cut short by assassination, he drove great projects – including the mission that led to man landing on the Moon – and reinvented the way Americans see themselves. His legacy is still referenced more than 50 years after his death. Mandela endured 27 years in prison, where he became emblematic of the struggle against apartheid, and emerged to lead a broken country towards freedom and reconciliation.
Perhaps the closest parallel with Lee is that of Sheikh Zayed – a comparison that Umej Bhatia, Singapore’s ambassador to the UAE, makes on these pages. Both Lee and Sheikh Zayed forged prosperous nations against incredible odds. After a century of British rule and three years of Japanese occupation, Singapore was a battered colonial outpost – until Lee came to power. When a merger with Malaysia failed, Singapore struck out on its own under his guidance, becoming one of the powerhouse Asian economies.
Lee leveraged a favourable geographic location to build a great transport hub, and he put in place initiatives that led to rapid, but measured and sustainable economic growth.
It is impossible to imagine Singapore without Lee or the UAE without Sheikh Zayed. But their successes were not just driven by the force of personality and ideas that were ahead of their time; they both set in place systems that would endure. The current leadership in both countries stand on the shoulders of giants. While Singaporeans mourn, they can take heart from the fact that the solid foundations Lee put in place will stand for generations to come.