PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A Segment of the Joint Press Conference with Kenyan President William Ruto (May 2023)

Remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A segment during the joint press conference with Kenyan President William Ruto on 18 May 2023 at the State House in Nairobi. PM Lee was on a working visit to Kenya.


CNA: I would like to ask what do you think Kenyan’s value is to Singapore in terms of, not just business and trade but also expanding Singapore’s diplomacy in Africa?

PM Lee Hsien Loong: Economics is of course, a very important part of any two countries’ relations. Between Singapore and Kenya, as I have explained, we have good economic ties and they are growing. But Kenya is also a very important country in Africa. In East Africa particularly, it has a key role, not just as the hub and a base from which we can extend our reach to the rest of East Africa, but also a role in the region’s security and stability.

Singapore has goodwill in Africa and in Kenya. We have many friends here. It goes back a long way. In fact, in 1964 when we were in Malaysia, Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited Africa on a tour and Kenya was one of the countries which he came to, and he called on President Jomo Kenyatta. We have maintained those ties since.

It is important to Singapore that we cultivate friends and partners all over the world. Because in the global scheme of things, we are all quite small countries and small countries need to make common cause with one another on issues which concern us all, whether it is the pandemic, whether it is climate change, whether it is nuclear non-proliferation or the sanctity of the UN Charter and the inviolability of international borders, which was what was at stake when Russia invaded Ukraine. Therefore, it is important for me to visit Kenya and to be in Africa, to show that this is important to us, and that we will like to develop our relations with our friends further.

NTV: My question goes to the seemingly trade imbalance between Kenya and Singapore, in that Kenya exports around US$10 million to Singapore, and Kenya imports around US$130 something million. Is there any sort of agreement between the two countries to bridge that gap? Thank you.

PM Lee Hsien Loong: We have not focused on this. We want to expand our economic relationship. We would like to develop the trade, and we want both Kenya's exports to Singapore and Singapore's exports to Kenya to grow. I think whether it is $10 million, or $190 million, it is both still relatively small and very small compared to what it could be and what we should make them.

I think our focus should be to grow the trade and to do it in a way which Kenyan companies can benefit and Kenyan consumers can benefit. And likewise in Singapore, Singapore companies see new business opportunities, and Singapore consumers see new sources of fruit, vegetables, tourism, flowers, so many things which Kenya provides.

Lianhe Zaobao: I have a question on the new areas of collaboration between the two countries, in particular on climate action, with the MOU inked earlier on carbon credit. Would you like to comment, how will the two countries actually move forward on issues that face mankind, both on bilateral and multilateral forums and what is your vision of what can be achieved between the two countries.

PM Lee Hsien Loong: The MOU expresses our intention to collaborate and for Singapore to take advantage of carbon credits, which Kenya will be able to provide. Carbon credits which are compliant with Article Six of the Paris Agreement, and which therefore can be used to fulfil our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In other words, what we have committed to, to reduce our carbon footprint, some parts of that we can fulfil through compliant carbon credits and Kenya is producing such carbon credits, we need such carbon credits and therefore we would like to get together on that. And the MOU expresses our intention to conclude an agreement, to work together on that.

Climate change is a very serious problem for the whole world. In Singapore, we see warmer weather, you may think it is just a blip, but actually it is a long-term trend and it is going to accentuate.  In Africa, in Kenya, you will also see extremes of weather, extremes of drought and floods. And it is existential because human beings, cattle, wildlife, all are threatened when the climate gets extreme.

Therefore, countries have to work together in order to reduce global emissions of carbon, in order to reduce global warming, and slow down the process of climate change, so that countries and mankind have got time to adapt. And we want to work closely with Kenya and many other countries in order to do that.

Citizen TV: Kenya and Singapore were almost at par many years ago. 60 years later, whilst strides have been made in Kenya in dealing with the issues of ignorance, health, there is still work to be done. What was the magic bullet Singapore instituted to make the strides it has made, and lessons that Kenya can pick?

PM Lee Hsien Loong: I do not think there is a magic bullet. I think it depends on circumstances, on the history, as well as on the environment which you find yourselves in and what you are able to mobilise from your population in response.

We are a very small country, and land area is very small – 700 square kilometres. The population is very small — at the time we became independent, one and a half million; now, less than six million people — and surrounded by countries much bigger than us, and needing to make a living, do or die. No resources, no natural endowments, no inherited wealth. And that generation of people decided that they would make a go of it. And we, their children and grandchildren, are the beneficiaries who have tried to continue to make a success of it.

Fortunately for us, our forefathers’ efforts worked, and our economy took off, and Singapore has been able to earn a living for itself. I think every country has got a different path; every country has got different challenges; every country deals with them in its own way. And Singapore hopes to work with them – win-win, mutually beneficially – to help them to progress, and to be part of one stable world where we can live in peace with one another and human beings can fulfil the human spirit.