UAE Flag
Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

In a world beset by overwhelming problems, and in an environment where even leading countries struggle to overcome such issues as the coronavirus, there are countries that not only continue to thrive but also look forward to, and plan, a brighter future for their people.

Today’s world is one troubling scene. Wars and conflicts, extreme poverty, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, racism, socioeconomic inequality, and climate change, which threatens to make life on this planet harder than it is. The coronavirus outbreak has proven that many countries are not ready, and unable, to deal with these challenges.

On the other hand, there are countries, not so many unfortunately, which have succeeded in presenting a different narrative. Those countries are thriving and moving forward, and at least one of those is busy planning for the next 50 years of prosperity. And that is the UAE.

Offering hope to the world

The UAE offers hope. While many others are occupied with existential questions and struggling to get up on their feet and be counted in an increasingly competitive world, the UAE story shows that it is possible for a country from the developing world to conquer even the most challenging hardships to build a successful nation, a modern state that has become a model of development.

Last week, UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that this year, 2021, is to be called ‘the Year of the 50th’, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the country.

In his book ‘Qissati’ (My Story), His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, talks about the birth of the UAE 50 years ago. “Every person remembers the moment when his first child was born, when his first love was born, the first day at school, the first day at work.

And I remember the moment the UAE was born,” he writes as he describes the historic talks that took place in the two years before the establishment of the union 50 years ago, from the first meeting between Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai, in a tent between Abu Dhabi and Dubai on February 18, 1968 to the signing of the union declaration at the Union House on December 2, 1971.

“We were racing against time. They were crucial years to build a country, achieve a dream, and build a future for the UAE.” With these words, Sheikh Mohammed sums up the basic idea of the UAE then and today. There is no time to waste, let us seize every opportunity to move forward. The world has no place for those who are slow and complacent.

Fifty years ago, the population was 235,499. Today, more than 10 million people live in the UAE. In 1971, only 48 per cent of UAE adults were literate; today the rate is over 95 per cent, with nearly equal rates for men and women. In the year the union was established, the UAE ranked 62nd in the Human Development Index (measures everything from life expectancy, means and years of schooling and income per capita).

High up in global indicies

Now it is ranked 31st out of 189 countries. The UAE has been ranked 18th globally and the first regionally in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2020 Gender Inequality Index. In the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020, the UAE ranked 9th globally and first in the Arab world.

In the global innovation index 2020, the UAE ranked first regionally and 36 globally. The UAE is also the happiest place in the Arab world and 21st globally according to the UN’s World Happiness Report 2020.

These are just a few examples of how the UAE came a long way from a nation that wasn’t even there before the 2nd of December 1971 to one that now sits at the top of each world index. The UAE today produces electricity from nuclear power. Its space technology broadcast images and scientific data from Mars. The UAE story was once a dream, an impossible dream. Today the dream is a reality. And there is more.

As the country continues to invest in education, innovation and its precious human resources, the next 50 years will no doubt witness new accomplishments and milestones that will dwarf those achieved in the past five decades.

I remember at the 2015 World Government Summit in Dubai when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, delivered his vision for the UAE’s next 50 years, which he said revolves around education.

And then Sheikh Mohammed said: “The question is, 50 years from now after we have loaded this last barrel of oil, are we going to feel sad? If our investment today is right, I think, dear brothers and sisters, we will celebrate that moment.”

This type of thinking and planning, I think, is why the UAE thrives as others decline, and will continue to amaze the world in the next 50 years while others will still be struggling with finding solutions to basic problems. The UAE asked those questions years ago and came up with the right answers.

A few weeks ago, the government began brainstorming in a retreat attended by the country’s leaders, ministers, and senior officials to draw plans for the development of the UAE in the next 50 years. At the retreat, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid said the meetings are aimed to discuss “the form of our government, how to accelerate our development process and improve the business and economic environment in the country in a bid to achieve new paradigm shifts.”

The road to prosperity begins with building a nation that is tolerant, educated, innovative, and work-oriented and believes in the supremacy of the law, equal opportunity and puts its people’s happiness and well-being above all. Those are the principles that the union was based on when it was born in 1971 and they continue to be the guiding fundamentals that will drive the country in the next 50 years.