Amidst the twitter storm of ‘what did the colonialists ever do for us’ is lost the message and mechanics of Singapore’s economic development. Often the wrong lessons – of a belief in the value of a benign dictator – are taken by those seeking single issue answers. Singapore’s path shows that it is as wrong to extol the virtues of colonialism as it to promote the benefits of authoritarianism.  When Lee Kuan Yew started as the leader of independent Singapore in 1965, the island was a fragile, poor backwater. Born amidst crisis arising from the separation of the Malay Federation and Konfrontasi with Indonesia, the city-state was riven with racial, ethnic and religious fault lines. Its infrastructure was geared to colonial purpose, including the dockyards. Two-thirds of its then 1.6 million people lived in overcrowded slums, most without water-borne sewerage, and many without employment, on a tiny island-state of just 580-km2. Fifty years later, Singapore’s GDP per capita stood at US$52...

BL Premium

This article is reserved for our subscribers.

A subscription helps you enjoy the best of our business content every day along with benefits such as exclusive Financial Times articles, ProfileData financial data, and digital access to the Sunday Times and Sunday Times Daily.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00. Got a subscription voucher? Redeem it now