Popular leader: Shaikh Khalifa receives Eid Al Adha greetings from a boy and his father at the Guest Palace in Abu Dhabi in December 2006. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Ever since he assumed office as the 16th Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 2004, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan led the transition of the emirate to become an economic powerhouse and leading global hub for innovations in renewable energy, clean technology and the environment.

Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates which comprise the UAE.

Sheikh Khalifa redefined the emirate’s economic and social strategy to include the continuing development of its huge oil industry, diversification of the economy into new areas, and developing the potential of citizens by providing them the best education and more opportunities.

Sheikh Khalifa assumed public duties as soon as he was old enough, and eventually spent more than five decades in the service of the homeland and citizens.

He was intimately involved in the creation of the UAE, supporting his father Sheikh Zayed as he guided negotiations between the nine emirates (the future seven which joined the UAE and Qatar and Bahrain) which had all signed an agreement to create a federation in 1968.

Even after some years of negotiations, there were still important outstanding issues, so on October 24, 1970, the 22-year-old Sheikh Khalifa called a meeting of the deputy rulers of the nine emirates. He had the difficult job of seeking resolution of several contentious issues, like where the capital of the new country would be, and how the various emirates would be represented in the Union Council.


During his term as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa oversaw dramatic changes in the government, where particular attention was paid to improvements in efficiency and delivering cost-effective services to the public and opening up much of the economy so that there was greater scope for direct private investment and public-private partnerships. With a burgeoning private sector and a well-educated population, Sheikh Khalifa’s policy was that the time was right for government to step back and concentrate on core areas of governance.

Active citizenship

One of the major themes of Sheikh Khalifa’s leadership was encouraging and promoting active citizenship. He stressed that restructuring the government would only be effective if the people of the UAE took upon themselves the task of contributing effectively.

“We have already begun preparing for the new era by promulgating legislation [and] placing some regulatory measures on the existing departments, institutions, activities and relations,” Sheikh Khalifa said in his December 2005 National Day message. “This is to tighten up the loose ends, to straighten the curves, put an end to wrongdoings [and] … to improve production and services.”

He added: “It is high time for our political, religious, cultural, information, educational and civil society institutions to take up their responsibilities to instill in our society the values of work, to change the negative perceptions about vocational activities.

“It is high time to make them understand the true meaning of work — that it means responsibility and reflects human, civil and religious values. These institutions also need to work hard to diversify the skills of the national human resources, to raise productivity, encourage investment in human resources development, improve voluntary work and create awareness on this noble work and its significance to individuals and society in general.”

Sheikh Khalifa increased expenditure on the development of infrastructure throughout the emirate, improving education, housing, health and social welfare.

This care for the well-being of citizens led to the launch of a number of funds and initiatives targeted at developing the local workforce, granting financial and other assistance to budding entrepreneurs, assisting the agricultural sector, providing housing and alleviating the burden of private debt for citizens with low incomes.


Under Sheikh Khalifa’s leadership, Abu Dhabi made a decisive shift in its economy by using its oil wealth to promote alternatives to hydrocarbons, both for its own long-term security and as a conscious contribution to the worldwide effort to reduce carbon emissions and deal with global warming.

The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the UAE is more than $40,000, and that number is significantly higher in Abu Dhabi. Each day, Abu Dhabi produces more than three million barrels of oil, and its oil reserves are now estimated at nearly 100 billion barrels, the seventh largest in the world.

Nonetheless, it is using this oil-and-gas driven economy to improve its energy conservation and environmental awareness.

In Masdar City, Abu Dhabi built a test case for an entirely energy self-sufficient urban landscape, which has become a focus of worldwide attention from experts and companies interested in seeing how their ideas play out on such a large scale.

This city uses innovative ideas to control the hot desert environment in an ecologically sustainable way.

Most of the commercial and manufacturing facilities within the city specialise in environmentally-friendly products. Public transport is the favoured mode of transportation, while automobiles are banned—a rather surprising switch in a fuel-driven economy.

Masdar City also has a sustainable, zero-carbon, zero-waste ecology, and relies entirely on renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydrogen—another unusual development in a country where more conventional forms of power are so easily available.

10 new industries

With the population of Abu Dhabi expected to grow substantially in the next few decades and thousands of young people entering the employment market, it is imperative that its economy diversifies from its reliance on oil and hydrocarbons, which does not need a large labour force.

This is why the emirate’s 2030 Economic Vision calls for the non-oil sector to reach 64 per cent of the economy, well up from 44 per cent in 2010. Developing a new industrial base in globally strategic industries is the heart of Abu Dhabi’s plan to diversify away from oil, with a target of reaching 24 per cent of output by 2030 coming from industry.

The Industrial Development Strategy is a framework for Abu Dhabi with individual development strategies for 10 focus industries and clusters, including aerospace, renewable energy, semiconductors, steel, aluminium, engineered metal products, petrochemicals and plastics products.

Supporting this strategy are Abu Dhabi’s industrial zones, which have developed world-class infrastructure under the management of the Higher Corporation for Specialised Economic Zones (ZonesCorp) and Abu Dhabi Ports Company.

The Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) is also making its mark, having signed agreements with multiple companies and with Emirates Aluminium (Emal) acting as an anchor tenant. One of Abu Dhabi’s aims is to increase the UAE’s regional aluminium output within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Another company helping to broaden Abu Dhabi’s economy is Mubadala. The powerful investment and development company is building knowledge-based industries in the aerospace and hi-tech manufacturing sectors.

Among its many interests are the composite aero structures manufacturing facility, Strata, and the Advanced Technologies Investment Company, which has its primary investment in the world’s second largest semiconductor manufacturing company.

Through such targeted investments, Mubadala is helping to create a technology ‘ecosystem’ in Abu Dhabi, important for diversifying the wider economy.

The capital is counting on projects such as those initiated by Mubadala, one of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned investment companies, to establish industries such as aluminium and aerospace as the emirate seeks to diversify its economy. As a result of the efforts of the Abu Dhabi government, key players like Senaat, Mubadala and ZonesCorp, and numerous partnerships between public and private entities.

Tourism and culture

Developing tourism is another route for Abu Dhabi’s diversification. The government of Abu Dhabi has spent a significant amount of money and effort to develop its cultural offerings — and the astonishing developments in the cultural district on Saadiyat Island will make it into one of the leading attractions for discerning visitors from all over the world.

The Zayed National Museum will tell the story of the UAE and the region in a dramatic building designed by Foster and Partners. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first universal museum in the Arab world with special access to the resources of the Louvre under its huge floating dome.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi was designed by Frank Gehry and will focus on contemporary art. Zaha Hadid designed the flowing lines of the Performing Arts Centre; and the Maritime Museum uses Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s ideas to create a virtual sea through which visitors will be able to walk through.