Recently, I visited the UAE, my third in the last 6 years, for Journalism training. The training which took place at the twofour54 Abu Dhabi for 7 days, exposed us to the rigours of international business reporting techniques. Before giving details of my experience in both Abu-Dhabi and Dubai, let me start with the concept of the institution known as the twofour54 Abu Dhabi. This is a great institution, recognised as the leading media training programme provider in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.
My experience did not only end at the journalism training room. I used my extra time to avail myself with other experiences in the very quiet and flamboyant city. Ever since arriving at the airport, I watched with keen interest the infrastructural development and investment worthy of attracting investors. UAE is not a day older than 45 years, but the development within the two cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi looks like improvements achieved over a period of two centuries, courtesy of the vision of its founders such as the first UAE president, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is credited with bringing the country forward into the 20th century, and using the revenue from oil exports to fund all the necessary development. Likewise, former UAE vice-president, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, had a bold vision for the Emirate of Dubai and foresaw the future not only in petroleum, but also in manufacturing. They were able to envisage an Arab nation with deep Islamic culture which accommodates today’s world civilisation in all its ramifications. This is the UAE of today. I used the extra time after classes to go round the city.The first day I went out I met a Nigerian taxi driver named Adeyemi, both of us were surprised to meet each other. We discussed issues related to Nigerians in UAE on our way to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, located in the city centre. The Grand mosque is considered to be the key place for worship in the country. The mosque is an elegant edifice and it attracts tourists of different faiths from all over the world. The mosque is considered to be the third largest mosque in the world after Holy Kaába in Mecca and Prophet Muhammad’s (Pbuh) mosque in Madina, in Saudi Arabia.
It is named after the founder and first president of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He chose the location and substantially influenced the architecture of the mosque. Based on his vision, the mosque was built with a rise of 11 metres above sea level, and 9.5 metres above the street level, making it visible from all directions. It is built as a monument to consolidate Islamic culture and serve as a prominent centre for Islamic sciences. To respect his wish, the mosque also serves as the resting place of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who passed away in 2004. I also went to Al Nar West Power Plant which is at the centre of the city. The plant is a gas-powered plant built in 1978 and it generates 790 mw. I wasn’t allowed to go inside the plant because of security reasons. The plant works perfectly, thanks to the peaceful environment that allows for smooth gas supply without any disruption. This reminds me of my dear country, Nigeria, where we have similar plants but which are not working. The country is able to meet its electricity demand per head. A recent report by Gulf News said power generation capacity in the UAE has grown at a compounded rate of 12 per cent per annum during the last 5 years, and current capacity stands at about 30,000MW (2012), while power consumption grew at slightly less than 8 per cent per annum during the same period.
The UAE is also looking to diversify its energy mix with the goal of generating 24 per cent of its total power generation by clean energy projects by 2020. “We continue to draw a clear strategy in energy, and we believe our economy is based on diversification,” the UAE Minister of Energy, Suhail Al Mazrouei, said. In Dubai, the biggest city in the Gulf region, the story is far more interesting. The Emirate is a success story in the world, but let me not bother you on how they achieved this status, but limit myself to what impresses me most. I saw in Dubai what it means to have a diversified economy, a concept which Nigeria spends time trying to come to terms with. For any nation that is willing to diversify its economy within a short while which Nigeria and other resource-dependent countries aim to do, Dubai is where to go to get the know-how. Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue in the UAE, with some of the world’s most luxurious hotels based in the UAE. Although the UAE is now less dependent on natural resources as a source of revenue, petroleum and natural gas exports still play an important role in the economy, especially in Abu Dhabi. A massive construction boom, an expanding manufacturing base, and a thriving services sector, are helping the UAE diversify its economy. Nationwide, there is currently $350 billion worth of active construction projects.How did they manage to achieve that? Over the decades, the Emirate of Dubai started to look for additional sources of revenue. High-class tourism and international finance continued to be developed. In line with this initiative, the Dubai International Financial Centre was established, offering 55.5% foreign ownership, no withholding tax, freehold land and office space and a tailor-made financial regulatory system, with laws taken from best practices in other leading financial centres like New York, London, Zürich and Singapore.
A new stock market for regional companies and other initiatives were announced in DIFC. Dubai has also developed internet and media free zones, offering 100% foreign ownership, no tax office space for the world’s leading ICT and media companies, with the latest communications infrastructure to service them. Many of the world’s leading companies have now set up branch offices, and headquarters there too. Recent liberalisation in the property market allowing non citizens to buy freehold land, has resulted in a major boom in the construction and real estate sectors, with several signature developments such as the 2 Palm Islands, the World (archipelago), Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Lake Towers, and a number of other developments, offering villas and high rise apartments and office space. UAE: Hub of global aviation? Emirates Airline (part of the Emirates Group) was formed by the Dubai Government in the 1980s and its sister Etihad was formed in 2002. They are among the few airlines witnessing strong levels of growth. By developing its aviation sector, the UAE has become the global aviation hub. For instance, Emirates is the world’s largest carrier in terms of international traffic. The Emirates Group operates across six continents with a 75,000 strong multinational team comprised of over 160 nationalities. The financial year ending 31st March 2014 saw the Group achieve its 26th consecutive year of profit in a financial year marked by record increases in capacity and significant business investments.
Operating profit of its financial year ending March 2014 increased 50.1% to AED 4.3 billion (USD1.18billion), an increase of AED 1.5 billion from last year’s operating profit level of AED 2.8 billion. This result boosted the operating margin to 5.2%, 1.3 percentage points higher than the previous year (2012-13: 3.9%). This development attracts foreign direct investments for UAE, but in a more precise way, the UAE sticks to its strategies on using its oil wealth in building infrastructure such as roads, rail, broadband, and electricity. The country has stiff regulations with aggressive marketing drives, evident in the English Premier League and other sporting events where Emirates and Etihad are advertised, among other top companies in the country. The country has been organising international sports competitions, trade and industry conferences, annually, with the special launch of products and unveiling of new ideas by larger corporations. The same type of reform in the aviation sector is also taking place in the maritime industry, with the construction of many big ports that facilitate movement of goods and heavy equipment to other countries.
Currently, the economy of the UAE is the second largest in the Arab world (after Saudi Arabia), with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $570 billion (AED 2.1 trillion) in 2014. The United Arab Emirates has been successfully diversifying its economy. 71% of UAE’s total GDP comes from non-oil sectors. The last time I was in Dubai was in 2011,but within the space of four years I have witnessed massive improvements and development springing up all over the city. Despite the fact that Dubai is enmeshed in huge debts, the future of the Emirate is bright as money is flowing into it from all corners of the globe. Surely, Nigeria, in this era of dwindling oil revenue, has many lessons to learn from the UAE.
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