Why Kenya should follow in Singapore’s footsteps to tackle rising unemployment

Jua kali artisans at work. Singapore got independence in the same year as Kenya but has scaled heights to almost totally eradicate unemployment.  [Photo: File/Standard]

By Mark Kapchanga

Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya and Singapore have a common history: They were both declared independent from Britain in 1963. But that is as far as their similarities can go.

Today, there is a gaping difference between the two countries. The Southeast Asian island city-state was faced with a rapidly growing, poor and uneducated population living in slums.

With precarious markets, small land, water scarcity and few natural resources, it struggled along until 1965 when it became an independent nation from Malaysia, with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in control.

The benevolent dictator endorsed a free-market state, attracting prominent multinational corporations. Two decades later, Singapore’s economy grew by 800 per cent. The average income per person appreciated more than fourfold while families living under poverty dropped to about 0.3 per cent.

Singaporeans’ average life expectancy hit 71 years, with practically everyone having a job and a home. In Yew’s mind was Switzerland. The prime minister’s wish was to see Singapore Airlines outcompete Swissair, with the focal goal being to reach Switzerland’s economic level.

To produce these economic miracles, the father of Singapore controlled population growth through the setting up of free family planning clinics.

This was followed by an intense campaign dubbed Plan Your Family Small. Inhibitive strategies such as shorter maternity leave, higher hospital charges and less income tax relief were also implemented to discourage women from having more children.


Women who agreed to be sterilised after their second child were rewarded USD5,000 (about Sh420,000), given priority for public housing and their children got into good schools.  To date, Singaporeans think that two is the right number of children.

Perhaps the most enduring move was the requirement that all workers save a minimum of 25 per cent of their salaries. They  would claim the money only after the age of 55. This formed one of the secrets behind Singapore’s incredible economic growth. The money would go into a Central Provident Fund, with which the government built roads, schools, hospitals and housing.

Yew’s administration saw 74 per cent of families owning their homes. His goal, however, was 100 per cent. It is hard to define Singapore. This is a dictatorship nation blended with free flow of information.

There is no corruption in this economy that uses capitalist means to attain socialist ends. To many scholars, Singapore is a ‘meritocratic, elitist and bureaucratic state’.

Whatever the description, Singaporean economy is one of the freest, most innovative, competitive and investor-friendly in the world. The Corruption Perceptions Index lists Singapore as one of the least corrupt states in the world, along with New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Yew put the country on a strong footing that it is the 14th largest exporter and the 15th largest importer in the world. It has the highest trade-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio, a measure of the significance of international trade to an economy in the world at 407.9 per cent.

It is the only country in Asia with AAA credit ratings, has more than 8,500 multinational firms and has signed over 10 free trade agreements with other nations. Despite its small size, Singapore has a strongly diversified economy. This is a strategy that the Government considers imperative for growth. Tourism forms a large part of the economy.

The country, too, is the world’s fourth leading financial centre and one of the top three oil-refining centres in the globe. Its port is one of the five busiest in the world.

These tremendous developments have successfully kicked poverty out of Singapore. Currently, the percentage of unemployed people above the age 15 is two per cent, the highest employment rate internationally.

The Ministry of Manpower says the impressive employment level is due to unrelenting emphasis and investment in education.