Trade between Africa and the United Arab Emirates goes back hundreds of years and there are strong enduring cultural ties, especially with the East coast of Africa. In more modern times, other international players have had greater economic infuence in the continent but over the last decade, the UAE has come roaring back and is likely to become one of Africa's most important trading and investment partners. In this Special Report, our correspondent in Dubai, Heba Hashem examines the current business links between Africa and the UAE and how these are projected to increase in the near future.
SINCE GAINING INDEPENDENCE IN 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been advancing rapidly; propelled by great wealth from the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1950s. Up until then, Abu Dhabi was a simple fishing village with a fort, while Dubai, situated along the creek, was a trading hub, both inhabited by proud and resourceful nomadic tribes.
Having traditionally relied on fishing, pearling, camel herding and farming, it was hard to imagine that this oasis was about to be transformed into an international business hub. But visualising and achieving is the UAE's greatest asset. Indeed, the spill-over effects of the oil discoveries galvanised every aspect of the economy, enabling bold visions to manifest into realities. Oil production revenues were invested into construction of schools, housing, hospitals and roads, and the economy escalated to compete on a global level.
Diversifying away from oil
Today, the UAE has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, reaching $49,000 in 2012, and accounts for 24.3% of the region's total trade. It is also the world's sixth largest oil producer, with around 10% of the global known oil reserves--90% of which lies in Abu Dhabi.
But the late president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan warned his people during the oil rush, saying: "Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies". Unless wealth is used in conjunction with knowledge to plan for its use, its fate is to diminish and to disappear.
This vision has become embedded in the country's present plans, which seek to supplement oil revenues by establishing industrial activities, tourism, financial, distribution and logistics services, with the national objective of diversifying the economy to prepare for a post-oil era.
Out of the desert emerged a glittering skyline of residential and commercial towers, free trade zones and world-class hotels, and, on top of the sea, revolutionary island projects like the Palm Jumeirah and The World Islands were built.
Free zones lure regional headquarters
More than 20 tree zones in Dubai offering 100% ownership, tax exemption on income and profits, and purpose-built...