On Sunday, in a reminder of Singapore’s huge postcolonial success, the country’s citizens gathered to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. From Reuters:
The highlight of the day’s celebration, a nearly three-hour long parade in the evening, showcased military vehicles, performances by the island nation’s different ethnic groups, and an aerial show by 50 military aircraft. A 26,000 strong audience gathered at the central stage, along with millions watching on television.It is the second time this year that Singaporeans have come together to reflect on the national success. The first was after the death of the first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, in late March.“At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel how far we have come … ” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, said in a televised speech on the eve of the national day.
PM Loong is right to marvel: Singapore is not perfect, but it has come a long way since 1965, when it emerged as an overcrowded, resource-poor nation divided into quarreling ethnic and religious groups and surrounded by larger, hostile states. Thanks to Yew’s leadership, Singapore is now one of the safest, most prosperous, and, from many standpoints, freest societies in the world.Unfortunately, other nations have not fared so well. Even as Singapore rejoiced this past weekend, the population of North Korea experienced mass hunger. According to the Times of London:
Two thirds of North Koreans now face chronic food shortages amid a government cut in rations and a drought that has destroyed crop yields.State-sanctioned food supplies have been cut from 410 to 310 grams, with farms struggling to feed the population, the UN says. As well as government mismanagement, El Niño, an abnormal weather pattern caused by warm water in the Pacific, has also played a part. […]“In the poorer rural areas there will be increased malnutrition and even cases of starvation,” as supply slows later this year.
The situation in North Korea is indicative of a larger trend. Wannabe nation builders that fell for the socialist claptrap of the twentieth century have ended up depriving their people of political and social liberty without delivering prosperity—not only in North Korea but in places like Cuba, as well. Had Fidel Castro, for example, been as smart, as forward-looking, and as concerned for the well-being of the poor as Lee Kwan Yew, Cuba would be a near paradise today. And if Yew rather than Stalin or Mao had been the figure who caught the imaginations of post-colonial rulers across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the world would be a better place today.