By Owei Lamkemfa

I JUST spent about two weeks    in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) my longest in that  country. Each time, I learn new things. One of them is a joke that brilliantly summarises the situation in the country. That EMIRATE is actually an acronym meaning English-Managed, Indian-Run, Arabs- Take- Everything. I also learnt that the UAE is like a caste system with Emiratis as first class, other Arabs as second, Europeans and Americans as third class, other nationalities as fourth, and the Bangladeshi being at the bottom.

The country is actually teaching the world, unique means of development. It is one to be studied in detail. Unfortunately, most people observe nothing; they are simply mesmerised especially by Dubai. They are there just for  trade and tourism;  to behold the architectural wonders of a country that three decades ago,  might not have featured in our imagination. It emerged from the backwaters of underdevelopment and poverty to wrest the limelight of development from most countries including the developed ones. The more oil it discovers, the more it invested, the higher its returns. It is not hooked  on the direct foreign investment drug nor does it bamboozle its populace with the false rhetoric that the private sector is the engine room of development. The UAE has demonstrated  again, as did China, that it is the public sector that can guarantee a rounded development.

The choice of work  for the Emirati is the public service which efficiently runs almost everything in the country, from taxis to buses, power to construction. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, which kisses the sky at a height of 828 metres  was  constructed by  government  which  also runs the Emirates; perhaps the best airline in the world.  Where Africans are told that subsidies are bad for their health, Emiratis are fed on diets of subsidy including fuel and electricity, and the country is the healthier for taking care of its people.

Yet, the seven kingdoms that federated on December 2, 1971 to establish  the UAE, are not so-called democracies. They are emirates run by Emirs with the Emir of Abu Dhabi, which constitutes 87 percent of the country, and has 10 percent of world oil reserves, as the automatic Head of State, with his brother Emir of Dubai being the automatic Deputy.

Dubai, its leading light, is an example in social liberalism in an Islamic state. On its streets, I saw no inhibition in type of clothes, especially worn by women. Those who want to take a sip from the bottle are free and Christianity is not only accepted, but seems  encouraged. However, church service, like jumat, is on Fridays as Sundays are full work days.

While the Islamic State (ISIS) is busy demolishing historical sites and human heritage, claiming they contain or comprise of  statues, I saw statue in Dubai.  The pyramid-shaped multi-storey  building housing the Salam Stores, particularly, caught my attention. It had two statues of a Pharaoh in front. The country also has its Strategic Plan which it implements.

The difference between it and a country like Nigeria is visionary leadership; where it has been able to manage its oil resources for the benefit of its people,  the  latter has displayed a marked appetite for perpetual underdevelopment and financial indiscipline. The UAE in transforming a desert into an oasis of glittering development, has  like China, shown the immense possibilities  of  the human spirit.

Indeed, the UAE presents humanity with a complexity in development systems. It is a mini United Nations with virtually, all known nationalities in the world seen on its streets. Indeed, 84 percent of the UAE population are non-citizens.  It is reliant on foreigners for physical and mental labour; from construction to management, cab driving to intellectualism.

The UAE does not seem to care about retaining good hands. It is a country, which no matter  your qualifications, competence, managerial skills, scholarly achievements, investment, length of residence or contributions, you can never become a citizen. Not even if you are born in the country, or a third generation. It is also profitable for Emiratis to inter marry.

The UAE  does not seem to brook opposition. There are no trade unions . It is a take-it- or- leave-it, type employment culture. So, the workforce is not covered  by international labour standards or decent work. So, why does it attract? First, the pay packet, many say, are higher than in most countries, although low, especially for construction workers. But given the massive construction, it attracts many. It has very good security, guaranteed power supply, good  roads which are well maintained, good environment and scholarship opportunities.

For instance,at the Masdar Institute of Science & Technology where the UAE is trying to build  a solar city, scholarship is given to graduate students from various parts of the world, with generous allowances. Uniquely, graduates are not required to stay back. What it means is that the country is interested primarily in what the students produce or contribute before graduation. Of course, the UAE has created a buyers and sellers international market in Dubai with relatively liberal visa policy  and a duty free policy.

The  UAE presents the troubling question, is its unique system of development sustainable? Can a country whose economy and life is dependent so heavily on foreigners, with citizens exhibiting little  appetite for work, be sustainable on the long run? China’s  sustainable development for instance, is guaranteed with a self-reliant populace, intellectual production and  localised technology.

But that of the UAE is not so certain.  There is no guarantee that it will always attract massive foreign labour nor that it can continuously utilize and maintain the massive structures ever rising to embrace  its skies.  With few factories, and a populace that is the ruling class, it seems that the fever that historically  afflicts ruling classes, will catch up with the UAE.

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