OpEd, Politics

How Dubai transitioned from nothing to a global hub

Dubai’s transformation from a desert to a global real estate hub has been nothing short of hard work and giving people the life, they deserve now. From having the world’s tallest building to man-made islands in the shape of a world map, the U.A.E.’s most populous city has never shied away from ambitious construction projects and a lot of amazing inventions.

Dubai is just a city in the United Arab Emirates, but most people have always mistaken it for a country and that is not important. Dubai, as it stands, has cheated time and it is a glaring example that anything is possible if you have able leaders who have people at heart.

To find gold, one must be prepared to get dirty before he reaches the surface. In the process, your life is as precious as the gold itself. There is this man in the name of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the iron man behind the Dubai we know and now the emperor of Dubai. It doesn’t take a bunch of eaters to right the wrongs, it takes one selfless leader to make the right better and improve the living standard of his people.

For years, this man has keenly looked at the shortness of life and made up his mind that his people don’t have to be promised a better tomorrow, they need a better now and something must be done to give the current generation the life they deserve not the life they want.  Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, summed up the ambition of his people in a quote:

“Dubai will never settle for anything less than first place.” Indeed, the city’s economic growth has been nearly unparalleled over the past two decades. Unlike neighboring emirates, Dubai had a modest supply of oil and knew that diversifying their economy would be vital for future success”.

As oil production leveled off in the early 1990s, the tourism industry ramped up. In 2002, reforms allowed foreigners to own real estate, and that industry boomed overnight. Today, oil accounts for a minuscule 1% of Dubai’s GDP.

As the Middle East begins looking toward a post-oil economy, Dubai’s success provides an obvious example for other countries that depend on oil. For decades, African leaders have used oil money to impoverish their people. The story of Dubai humbles, and it teaches us that we don’t have to solely depend on oil. It is a curse, in the book, Leif Wenar wrote something very critical about the curse of oil and I would quote.

“We consumers are aware of these cursed market connections—sending their spending to dictators and militias and corrupt officials today and incentivizing more suffering and injustice tomorrow—most would not want them. The contribution of any one consumer to the resource curse is unknown, and it is well-nigh impossible for any consumer to find out which purchases involve him or her in it. Still, alert consumers will suspect that many of the goods they buy bear a moral taint from their resource-cursed origins.

She may have blood on her hands—in the gold in her ring. He may have screams in his mouth, as he eats ice cream made with oil-derived nitrogen. She may resent needing to shop every day in a globalized market that is structured by such pervasive injustice. He may have a queasy feeling that the resource curse that goes around abroad will come around to hurt those he loves.

And she may dread the next impossible foreign policy crisis that will fill the airwaves with invective. This problem is very deep. It is deep not only because global flows of tainted natural resources are so massive but also because the world depends on those flows of resources continuing. If the millions of barrels of authoritarian oil were to stop flowing tomorrow, the global economy would seize.

Luxuries would become unaffordable for us, hundreds of thousands would lose their jobs, and millions overseas who have recently escaped severe poverty would fall back into destitution if they survived the crash at all. The world runs on tainted resources, so we seem to be caught in a terrible bind. Our desire to live morally decent lives pulls against the practical necessity of sustaining our lifestyles, and lives around the world.”

Leif’s point sends a shocking wave through the spine, but the truth hurts, and it must be said. I cannot run to the conclusion that oil is a curse, but it depends on how it is approached. The blessing that comes from the rightful use of oil can last a lifetime and give people the best life ever that they would enjoy for generations.

The man of Dubai, Bin Rashid Al Maktoum had something in mind and that was the fact that oil was not the only way forward. This gave them a chance to make good use of their oil to better improve the lives of their people but in countries where people are not strong, the government takes advantage and abuses the oil money and this produces a curse as the only result.  This is how Michael Ross, an economist put it:

“Since 1980, the developing world has become wealthier, more democratic, and more peaceful. Yet this is only true for countries without oil. The oil states scattered across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia are no wealthier, more democratic or peaceful than they were three decades ago.

Today, the oil states are 50 percent more likely to be ruled by autocrats and more than twice as likely to have civil wars as the non-oil states. They are also more secretive, more financially volatile, and provide women with fewer economic and political opportunities.”

According to Leif Wenar, in a rare country like Norway, where the people control their rent-addicted state, resource money can make the people stronger. In the more common case, where the state is an addicted autocrat, resource money can make the people weaker. This might seem to raise a puzzle.

Why shouldn’t all rulers want to make their people stronger? Wouldn’t a strongman be stronger still if he ruled over a healthy, well-educated population that powers a vibrant, taxable economy that can sustain a larger army? Shouldn’t a big fish want a bigger pond, not a smaller one?”

As hard as it goes, the point must be harmonized and those with ears must listen and apply what they have heard. You cannot as a leader, be down by raising someone up. What Africa needs is not Dubai, America or Norway but a continent that rewards those who give their best shot in life. The African government must sit down one day and imagine what a blessing it is to be in Africa. Don’t forget that in the late 1990s, Dubai was just a no man’s land, a desert but it took one man to change the story.

For a country to grow, it doesn’t need guns and killing, guns have never made heaven out of a good country. What Africa needs are leaders who will impersonate Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  Sheik did not change Dubai overnight; he was a citizen before he became the leader. This gave him the ability to discern what people need in a leader and how a leader uses his or her time to improve the lives of his people. The African governments have a long journey to embark on, maybe to the United States of Africa.

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