KIGALI - Singapore will tailor training for government officials from African countries on emerging issues like sustainability and digitalisation, as part of a new initiative to strengthen technical assistance to the continent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (June 27).
The three-year Singapore-Africa Partnership Package will also offer scholarships for senior African officials to study in Singapore universities, and provide priority placement for African officials in courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), he added.
More than 137,000 officials from 180 countries have attended courses and workshops under the SCP, which was set up in 1992 to bring together Singapore's technical assistance efforts and marks its 30th anniversary this year.
"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," said PM Lee at a press briefing with Rwandan President Paul Kagame after they met.
"Singapore is encouraging our people and businesses to venture into new markets in Africa. We are also happy to share our experience in economic development, human resources development, and capacity building with others," added PM Lee.
He noted that the SCP has been well received by officials from African countries, and more than 12,000 of them, including many from Rwanda, have attended its courses.
The two leaders held meetings at the Urugwiro Village in the Rwandan capital Kigali, during which they reaffirmed the excellent state of Singapore-Rwanda relations and discussed areas for further collaboration.
PM Lee said: "Despite the challenges of Covid-19, our two countries continue to cooperate actively. Our people-to-people ties have remained strong. Leaders and officials have kept up the tempo of engagements.
"Both the President and I are committed to advancing our bilateral partnership. We have established good collaboration, including making new initiatives in the digital economy, fintech and even judicial cooperation."
Fintech, or financial technology, refers to the use of innovative business models and technology to provide, enable and enhance financial services such as payment and fund transfers.
Singapore and Rwanda also have strong collaboration on the multilateral front, and PM Lee highlighted how both are members of the Forum of Small States at the United Nations and how they work closely to advance the interests of small states and strengthen the multilateral system.
PM Lee, who is on his first trip to Africa, has been in Kigali since last Thursday. He attended the two-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) last Friday and Saturday, and remained in the country for an official visit.
Earlier on Monday, PM Lee visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which commemorates those killed in the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994, and laid a wreath. He also left a message in a guestbook.
Congratulating President Kagame for hosting a successful Chogm, PM Lee said he was glad the summit created an opportunity for him to meet counterparts in Africa face to face, to exchange views and perspectives, as well as to learn more about Rwanda.
While Singapore might be geographically far away from Africa, it has many friends in the region, he added, noting that some of the African leaders he met at Chogm still recall founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's first visit to their countries more than 50 years ago.
"I'm very grateful for this reservoir of goodwill in Africa towards Singapore," he said.
Interactions have grown and government-to-government cooperation has increased, with regular visits between leaders.
PM Lee also said he met Singaporeans working in Rwanda who have seen the promise in the region. Singapore companies are also venturing into Africa, which has growing economic opportunities, he added.
He said: "There are many bright spots in Africa and Rwanda is one of the brightest. Singapore looks forward to deepening our cooperation, and increasing trade and investment between Singapore and Rwanda."
President Kagame said discussions are taking place actively, and the two countries are going to be "doing even more together in the years ahead".
Responding to a question on what he sees Rwanda doing more with Singapore and Asia, the President listed several areas of cooperation including trade, education, technology and climate change.
He also mentioned healthcare as a field where collaboration could be deepened, after the experience of Covid-19. “How do we cooperate in this area where we strengthen our capacities and possibilities to meet healthcare challenges, and the future challenges brought by these pandemics? The area covers a lot of ground and needs.”
PM Lee said he looked forward to working with President Kagame to ensure ties continue to grow. "Although we are on different continents, our two countries have much in common."
He added: "Both are small countries, with limited resources. Both place importance on international cooperation to improve our societies and our peoples' lives. Both seek to work with other small countries to secure peace, progress and prosperity for our peoples in a dangerous world."