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African officials to get priority for development courses conducted by Singapore: PM Lee

KIGALI, Rwanda: African officials will get priority for Singapore-conducted training that will cover emerging issues such as climate change, sustainability and digitalisation.

This is part of a new three-year Singapore-Africa Partnership Package unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Jun 27).

Mr Lee was speaking in Kigali during a joint press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Both leaders had attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

African nations make up 19 of the 54-nation group of mostly former British colonies. On Saturday, the last day of the summit, the Commonwealth admitted west African states Gabon and Togo.

Mr Lee said on Monday that he is glad that the summit gave him the opportunity to meet his African counterparts face-to-face, and to exchange views and perspectives with each other.

He acknowledged that the Commonwealth does not have a lot of resources available for official group cooperation, but pointed out that member states still work informally together.

“With that branding, we are both Commonwealth countries, there is a certain, I would not go on to say shared values, but certain commonality in a broad approach and mindset, which means if I work together with you, I think it is likely to go somewhere. That is very valuable,” he said.

While Mr Lee is on his first official visit to Africa, he recounted how Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew first visited the continent more than 50 years ago.

“Even now, some of the African leaders I met at CHOGM still recall his visit to their countries. And I am grateful for this reservoir of goodwill in Africa towards Singapore,” he said.

VENTURING INTO AFRICA

Mr Lee said Singapore is encouraging its people and businesses to venture into new markets in Africa.

“We are also happy to share our experience in economic development, human resource development and capacity building with others,” he said.

This is why the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) was launched in 1992, Mr Lee said. The programme offers training courses on topics like public health, trade and economy, as well as leadership and governance.

“On this 30th anniversary of the SCP, I am happy to announce a three-year Singapore-Africa Partnership Package,” Mr Lee said.

“We will customise courses in priority areas for Africa. These will cover emerging issues such as on climate change and sustainability, and digitalisation and smart cities.”

African officials will also get “priority placement” in SCP courses, while senior African officials will be offered postgraduate scholarships in Singapore universities, he continued.

“Rwandan officials have actively participated in SCP courses over the years,” he added, noting that more than 12,000 African officials, including many from Rwanda, have attended the “well-received” SCP courses to date.

“And we look forward to Rwanda’s and Africa’s continued participation in the SCP.”

In response to a question on Africa’s potential and how Singapore could help develop it, Mr Lee said Africa is a “continent on the move”.

“It's a huge population. It's very diverse. The countries have a huge range of economic situations and political environments. And in that complexity, there are multiple bright spots and Rwanda is one of them,” he said.

“It's had a traumatic past in the genocide … And it's determined to pick itself up beyond that, to reconcile the hurt and to move forward and see hope for the future. 

“And when a population feels like that and is on the move, and has a leadership and a government which is organising it and setting the direction and making things happen, there are opportunities for themselves and for their partners.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lays a wreath on the graves of victims of the Rwandan genocide at the Kigali genocide memorial on Jun 27, 2022. (Photo: CNA/Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

SINGAPORE-RWANDA TIES

Before meeting Mr Kagame, Mr Lee paid respects at the Kigali genocide memorial, where he laid a wreath and left a message in a guestbook.

In 1994, Hutu extremists killed 800,000 people in Rwanda across 100 days of vicious ethnic violence.

In the years following the genocide, Mr Kagame has been hailed for transforming Rwanda through policies that encouraged rapid economic growth.

“The Rwandan people have showed great fortitude. May they continue to enjoy peace for many years,” Mr Lee wrote in the memorial guestbook.

Singapore is Rwanda’s largest trading partner, with about US$150 million (S$208 million) worth of foreign direct investments made by Singapore companies in Rwanda.

In August 2021, the two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding on digital economy cooperation.

“Singapore looks forward to deepening our cooperation, and increasing trade and investment between Singapore and Rwanda,” Mr Lee said.

The Prime Minister highlighted that Singapore and Rwanda, despite being on different continents, have “much in common”. 

Both are small countries with limited resources that place importance on international cooperation – including with other small countries – to secure peace, progress, and prosperity for their people in a “dangerous world”, he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leaves a message in a guestbook at the Kigali genocide memorial on Jun 27, 2022. (Photo: CNA/Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

“I therefore look forward to working closely with President Kagame to ensure that the relationship between our two countries continues to grow from strength to strength,” he added.

When asked how else Rwanda could work with Singapore and Asia, Mr Kagame said the country will look at increasing trade and investment as well as education cooperation.

“We will work together in the area of technology which can catalyse our development, and see (how) the use of technology has contributed to the development in Singapore or other Asian partners,” he said.

“We will look at issues of security and work with them in dealing with climate change which affects other parts of the world.”

Mr Kagame in his speech thanked Singapore for being a “valuable partner” over the years, saying that the countries will be doing even more together in the years ahead.

“Singapore's development model and its commitment to social cohesion and national unity are very impressive,” he added.

Source: CNA/zl

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