Ridzwan Dzafir - From Pondok Boy to Singapore's Mr ASEAN


By Ridzwan Dzafir, Foreword by S R Nathan, Contributions by Tommy Koh and Yaacob Ibrahim
236 pp, 226 mm x 150 mm

ISBN: 978-981-4217-60-6
RRP USD26.00 buy from amazon

Category: Biography & Autobiography
Theme: Singapore


One of Singapore’s most outstanding civil servants, Ridzwan Dzafir (1927-2011), gives an account of his life from humble beginnings in a Baweanese communal pondok (longhouse) in the 1930s to an illustrious four-decade career in public service that saw his appointment as the inaugural Director-General of Singapore’s Trade Development Board, President of MUIS (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) and CEO of MENDAKI. Steeped in the art of negotiation, he was a key figure in Singapore’s trade talks with ASEAN member countries and in international forums such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, predecessor of the World Trade Organisation) and several United Nations commissions.

This autobiography provides a glimpse of childhood in pre-war Singapore and offers an insight into the network of international trade diplomacy during the fledgeling years of Singapore’s nationhood and beyond.

Professor Tommy Koh is currently Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the Governing Board of the Centre for International Law, and Rector of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He is the Co-Chairman of the China–Singapore Forum, the India–Singapore Strategic Dialogue and the Japan–Singapore Symposium. Prof Koh was Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York for 13 years. He was Ambassador to the United States of America for 6 years. He was the Dean of the Faculty of Law of NUS. He was also the President of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea. He chaired the Preparatory Committee for and the Main Committee at the Earth Summit. He has served as the UN Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy to Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He was also Singapore’s Chief Negotiator for the USA–Singapore Free Trade Agree-ment. He has chaired two dispute panels for the WTO. In 1984, Yale University conferred on Professor Koh an honorary degree of doctor of law. He received the Elizabeth Haub Prize for Environmental Law in 1996 and was made a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2006. He also received the Great Negotiator Award 2014 from Harvard University on 10 April 2014.

Mr S R Nathan, former president of Singapore, completed his second and last term of office at the end of August 2011.

Before he was elected president in 1999, he had an illustrious career in the Singapore Public Service, overseeing various portfolios in his 50-year career and spanning the fields of labour welfare and foreign relations. He began his service as a medical social worker, followed by six years as a seaman’s welfare officer and eventually rose to helm the Labour Research Unit as director in January 1964, when he also helped to establish the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, he served in the nascent Ministry of Foreign Affairs as assistant secretary, before progressing to Home Affairs and then to Defence. He returned to the Foreign Ministry in 1979 as first permanent secretary for almost three years before retiring officially from the civil service.

Subsequently Mr Nathan served a stint as executive chairman of The Straits Times Press before becoming Singapore’s high commissioner to Malaysia (1988–90) and ambassador to the US (1990–6). On his return, he established the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (now the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, RSIS) at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and served there until 1999, when he was elected president of Singapore.

Mr Nathan is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Singapore Management University (SMU), as well as at the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and at NTU. He is also chairman of the CapitaLand Hope Foundation.

He has authored four books. The first, Why Am I Here, details his work assisting seafarers, and the second, Winning Against The Odds, describes the struggles in establishing the NTUC. Mr Nathan published his personal memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, in 2011, and Fifty Stories from My Life in 2013.


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