More than 35 years ago Singapore was on the same economic level as African countries such as Kenya in the East and Ivory Coast in the West. They had all recently gained independence from colonial powers and the people were eager to build their countries and prosper.
Fast forward and today Singapore has a highly developed market-based economy heavily dependent on exports and refining imported goods. It is one of the "four tigers" (South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong) boasting the world's fastest growing economy with a GDP growth of 14.5% in 2010.
Kenya like Singapore was a former British colony that gained its independence about four years after Singapore. Kenya now has a market-based economy and as of 2010 was gearing for a 4-5% GDP growth. This growth is largely steered by recent ICT innovations.
Why is Singapore a first-world country with a GNI (per capita) of $20,066 per person and Kenya a third-world country with a GNI of $315.04 per person - yet they were both at an economic par 35+ years ago?
I say that among other things - Singapore had and continues to have leaders with a vision, Kenya did not. Singapore strived to unify the people by pushing an equal distribution of wealth economic pattern while Kenya continued the destructive patterns of its colonial power - divide and rule. Singapore is consistently rated one of the least corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International. Kenya, on the other hand, is rated among the six most corrupt countries in the world.
One of the excuses I have heard frequently flaunted is that countries like Singapore have homogenous populations while Kenya, like many African countries, have different ethnic groups that are hostile to each other. Therefore it was easy for these Asian nations to focus on economic growth without the stresses of unify peoples of different cultures. This is a false analysis. Listen to a recent Charlie Rose interview of with former PM Lee Kuan Yew. He purposely developed economic strategies to bring the Malays, Indians, Chinese and Arabs together because this was the only way Singapore would grow to be the economic giant it is today. Kenyan leaders (and many other African leaders) were/are unable to see the importance of uniting ethnically fragmented populations so as to realize a maximized potential of their nation's economic growth. Singapore has visionary leaders with a economic-growth plan. Kenyan (African) leaders feather their nests while the sun shines.
So why did Singapore thrive economically and Kenya did not? Leadership - a critical component lacking in Kenya and many other African countries - including those in the Sahel as we have witnessed.