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Is Kenya the Next Singapore?

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By Jean Clarys

The idea that Kenya could become the next Singapore seems ambitious and provocative. Singapore is often cited as an example of rapid economic success, and Kenya aspires to a similar transformation. This article examines the key similarities and differences between these two countries to evaluate this hypothesis.

Political and Economic Frameworks: A Comparative Analysis

Since the 1960s, Singapore has experienced a spectacular economic transformation. Once a small fishing port, Singapore has become one of the most prosperous financial centres in the world. This success is based on several factors: strict political stability, attractive pro-business policies, and top-notch infrastructure. For example, Singapore’s Changi Airport is consistently ranked among the best in the world, and the Port of Singapore is one of the busiest in terms of shipping tonnage.

The Singaporean government has created a favourable business environment, attracting massive foreign investments and stimulating economic growth. Kenya, on the other hand, is currently at a critical crossroads oand M-Pesa, which have revolutionised mobile banking.

Recent reforms, particularly within the framework of Vision 2030, aim to transform Kenya into an industrialised middle-income country. Ambitious infrastructure projects, such as the development of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) linking Mombasa and Nairobi, illustrate Kenya’s intention to modernize its economy.

Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts: Diverging Paths

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Singapore’s governance model is often described as benevolent authoritarianism, characterised by efficient administration and relentless anti-corruption efforts. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), established in 1952, plays a crucial role in maintaining low levels of corruption. This approach has maintained political and social stability, creating an environment conducive to economic growth. Singapore’s economic policies, such as special economic zones and tax incentives, have also played a crucial role in attracting foreign investments.

For example, the Jurong Island project transformed a group of small islands into a world-class chemical hub. Across the Indian Ocean, in Kenya, the current political situation is very different from that in Singapore. Indeed, the country faces governance challenges and persistent corruption issues. The country ranks poorly on the Corruption Perceptions Index, which highlights the need for substantial reforms.

However, recent initiatives show a willingness to change. The establishment of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and new legislation aimed at improving transparency are steps in the right direction. Gradual democratisation and administrative reforms aim to improve governmental efficiency and attract more foreign investments. The fight against corruption remains a major challenge, but significant progress has been made in recent years, with high-profile cases being prosecuted.

Infrastructure and Urban Development: Laying the Foundations for Growth

Singapore boasts an extremely efficient transport network and well-integrated urban development. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is a prime example of effective public transportation, facilitating efficient movement within the city. Top-notch infrastructure, including a world-class port and an international airport, are essential pillars of its economy. The Singaporean government has invested heavily in infrastructure, recognising its importance for economic development and attracting international businesses.

For its part, Kenya has undertaken several recent infrastructure projects to modernise its transport and communication networks. The Thika Superhighway is a notable example, improving connectivity between Nairobi and surrounding regions. Initiatives such as the Mombasa-Nairobi railway project and the development of highways aim to improve connectivity and stimulate the economy. However, financing and managing these projects pose significant challenges. Public-private partnerships, such as the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project, are often used to overcome these obstacles, offering opportunities for future development.

Education and Innovation: Building a Knowledge-Based Economy

Singapore’s education system is renowned for its excellence, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Institutions like the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are highly ranked globally. The government strongly encourages innovation and research and development, which has enabled Singapore to become a global leader in technology and innovation. For instance, the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) drives innovation in various fields.

In a similar dynamic to Singapore, although challenges remain, Kenya has also made significant progress in the field of education. The country has seen an increase in literacy rates and school enrolment. Initiatives such as tech hubs and support for start-ups demonstrate a commitment to promoting innovation. The country has become a technological hub in Africa, with notable developments in information and communication technologies. For example, the iHub in Nairobi serves as a collaborative workspace for tech entrepreneurs. However, to reach Singapore’s level, additional investments in education and innovation are necessary.

In summary, while Kenya and Singapore share certain similarities in terms of economic development and modernisation aspirations, significant differences remain. Singapore’s effective governance model and anti-corruption efforts contrast with Kenya’s political challenges. However, with continued reforms and strategic investments in infrastructure and education, Kenya has the potential to follow a development trajectory similar to Singapore’s. Only time will tell if Kenya can indeed become the next Singapore, but current signs are promising.

© Jean CLARYS, 2024. All rights reserved

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