Dr. Ram Buxani on Dubai
As reported by “khaleej Times”
Dr. Ram Buxani came to Dubai in 1959, when he was just 18. Ever since, Dubai’s spectacular all-round growth – from an emirate lacking in basic infrastructure and modern amenities to a thriving world-class metropolis and global business hub-has invariably fascinated Ram. His acclaimed autobiography taking the high road is in fact a glowing tribute to Dubai and its enviable success saga. When Ram decided to do PhD at the age of 63, the subject he picked for the thesis was ‘Governance of Dubai’. Khaleej Times is happy to present to its readers an abridged version of his thesis.
Dubai: Epitomising the Spirit of Globalisation
We were at a dinner party in the Emirates Hills. The dining room of my friend’s villa provided a beautiful view of Shaikh Zayed Road. A European guest who was enjoying the view turned around and said: “What a beautiful skyline! Dubai has done a wonderful job!” I instantly replied : “You should tell this to your people when you go back, especially to your media.”
I wanted to make a point because I was really annoyed the way the Western media chose to report what it called Dubai World’s announcement that it was a seeking a standstill agreement for six months with its creditors. Dubai World, one of the largest holding companies in the world, with billions of dollars in liabilities, sought to delay its payment because it wanted to restructure its debt, including that of its property subsidiary Nakheel. That the announcement set off panic reactions in many markets in understandable. The world is interlinked than ever before. An incident in any part of global financial market could have some impact elsewhere because of the interconnectedness. However, its seemed the Western media was writing with a vengeance. It went overboard with exaggerated stories of Dubai’s financial ‘problems’. Dubai bashing soon became an obsession, especially, among visiting international journalists.
They popped up every now and then, enjoyed five-star facilities, the sun and the sand, and then wrote about the so-called dark side of the city. In their eagerness to produce negative stories, they seemed to have forgotten how Dubai has built its infrastructure, envied even by many developed centuries. Sometimes ago the New York Times’ celebrated columnist Thomas Friedman described Dubai as a place that “embodies the narrative of globalization as progress.”
The very people who were showering praise on Dubai for its bold experiments were now pouncing on it with malice and patronizing commentaries. Where is their perspective?
On hindsight one could say that had the international media been briefed differently, there would have been far fewer speculative reports on the issue. However, there is no justification for the lopsided news analysis churned out by the Western media.
Had the so-called analysis bothered to spend some time to go through the history books, they would have raised that in its development history Dubai had faced so many difficult situations. I don’t say similar, nonetheless very trying situations. Dubai was criticized time and again for taking up what seemed to be economically unviable projects. But Dubai always proved its critics wrong! I have been living in Dubai for more than 50 year and I have been witness to its growth. They say a city is like an organism. It follows certain growth patterns. Like an organism it also faces ups and downs, good health and ill health in its life cycle. But these are all part of the growth process. This is natural law. It is also applicable to Dubai.
I believe whatever Dubai did; it did with good intention and common good in mind. His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, once said that he wanted to make Dubai an Arab city of global significance, like Cordoba and Baghdad. These two cities were the leading urban centres of the Muslim world at the highest of the Islamic empire in the 10th century. Shaikh Mohammed wanted to regain the lost glory of the Muslim world. What is wrong in it? What makes Dubai great in the large heartedness of its Ruler in welcoming people from different centuries with diverse background and skills, and providing them a platform of their personal growth. Over the years, millions, especially from the Asian centuries, have benefited from this open door policy. People who could never have even dreamt of any modern-day comforts in their home centuries enjoyed better life here. They could afford comfortable apartment and cars. Petrol has been cheap. Those who wanted to lead a more comfortable life in swanky villas, gated communities and posh residential areas. Many of them could afford domestic help and gardeners and drivers. How many of them could even entertain such thoughts in their home centuries? Life in the Emirate is free from much of drudgery not only for the Asian but also for Europeans and Americans.
Whatever it was about the longest driverless metro service or the tallest building in the world which stands at 828 meters and can be seen from as far as 90 kilometers on a clear day; of the palm-shaped islands it has created from sea, the world looked at Dubai with some sort of disbelief. This is understandable as attempts by smaller centuries or centuries that fall outside the First World have always received qualified node of appreciation in their attempts at excellence.
Dubai’s universal record for distinctions
Dubai’s uniqueness stems from the contradictions that characterize its entity: it is part o f a Third World country but it boasts of infrastructure comparable to any developed country. It is part of an oil producing country but their incomes from oil constitute less than five per cent of the GDP. It is part of Muslim state but it also created a heterogeneous, multinational, multi-religious society by opening its doors for about 200 nationalities of all faiths and creeds – its own population constitutes not even one fourth of the total population.
Dubai was a protectorate of Great Britain but it doesn’t carry any vestiges of the colonial rule. It had very little local resources, but it shows in ingenuity to spot ways and mean to overcome the limitations thereby providing the inhabitants a better living than they could enjoy, had they relied entirely on the emirate’s own resources. Its GDP has grown from $2.0 billion in 1975 to $47.8 billion in 2009.
Dubai’s contribution in making the country a prosperous place in undisputable. The UAE has already achieved many distinctions to its credit. It is: The world’s third richest, with per capita income of $16,471; the fourth largest oil producer at 2.5 million barrels per day; boasts one of the world’s lowest crime rates – 19 per thousand; has one of the best student- teacher ratios – 12 to 1; a doctor per 311 people and a hospital bed per 853; has an automobile for every six people and a phone for every three person living here.
What gives Dubai its strength is the mine mixing of tribal tradition of authority and legitimacy that the ruler derives from the faith bestowed on him by his countrymen, and forward looking policy, shorn of parochialism and narrow-mindedness. It’s also the special relationship that evolved overtime between the rulers and the trading and business community that helped Dubai go through the rapid change from the fishing village to modern metropolis in just about 50 years, of which the past three decades have been particularly dramatic.
The seed of the modern Dubai was sowed at the turn of the mid-19th century. Dubai was no more than the costal fishing village then. There were hardly two dozen country vessels operating from the Dubai trading essential goods which used to come from the port across the Gulf on the Iranian Coast to neighbouring countries. The thriving port across the Arabian Gulf was called Lingah.
The business thrived there because it was a port, free of import and export duties. However, as the trading activities began to thrive, the government started showing greater interest in controlling Lingah’s administrative affairs. The Iranian Imperial Customs began levying taxes at the turn of the 20th century.
That decision by the Iranian Government was a watershed in the history of the region and Dubai. The merchant community, especially the Arabs, resented the Iranian intrusion and the levying of taxes by the regime. The then Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum, one of the wisest and liberal rulers in this part of the world in the early 20th century, offered incentives such as free land, abolition of import and export duties and personal protection to lure merchants from the Iranian port.
The incentive and selling the concept of free-trade port worked. There began a steady steam of migration of merchants from Lingah to Dubai.
The impact of the migration was tremendous and far reaching. By 1906, just three years after the beginning of this exodus, the number of ships calling on Dubai rose to 34, with a gross tonnage of 70,132. There were around 2,000 houses around a creek and 350 traders in the souk, making it one of the biggest entrepots in the religion. By 1967, the trade was worth £41.7 million and year later, in 1968, the figure was £70 million. This was a phenomenal growth for Dubai which was gaining the status of the thriving coast town.
Strategic Decision help Dubai stay ahead of Times
Dubai’s spectacular development is the result of a series of strategic decision taken by the Ruler over a century. All these decision helped Dubai to stay ahead of times and that is the secret of the Dubai’s success. Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum, son of Shaikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al Maktoum, succeeds his father in 1912 and sowed the seeds of economic growth and laid the foundation of stability of the city-state.
Shaikh Saeed’s son, Shaikh Rashid, took over the reins in 1958. Portrayed as the architect of modern Dubai, Shaikh Rashid pushed Dubai into the fast track of the growth. He realised it was the lack of infrastructure that was hampering the Dubai’s development. Dubai did not have an airport until 1960. The Creek, a snaky silver of waterway that winds its way inland for about 12 miles from the Arabian Gulf, was Dubai’s soul and lifeline; it was also the gateway, the boundary of Dubai’s small world. The decision to deepen the creek was a masterstroke by the Ruler.
In 1958, soon after he became the Ruler, Shaikh Rashid announced that Dubai would be building an airport. On September 30, 1960, Shaikh Rashid inaugurated Dubai International Airport. The government also created an agency called Dnata to proved ground handling and ticketing services.
Today, Dubai International Airport is one of the busiest in the world for both passenger and cargo traffic.
Shaikh Rashid again found a great opportunity to act and to place Dubai ahead of other centuries in the region. In 1967, a plan was ready for Port Rashid with the best elements of Singapore and Holland ports. He inaugurated the port in October 1971, five year after the initial earthworks.
In just five years, Port Rashid found its facilities inadequate to handle the load. So a second phase of expansion was undertake in February 1976 to add a further 20 berths, including five-berth container terminals for the biggest vessels of the day. Even before the capacity of Port Rashid was fully put into use, Shaikh Rashid went ahead with a plan to build the Dh6.2 billion Jebel Ali port.
In 1979,in just three years, the port was ready. It became, aside from the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure on earth that could be seen from the moon. Another ambitious project was the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, now housing about 2,500 companies from about 100 centuries.
When the Jebel Ali Airport was its planning stage, Shaikh Rashid was toying with the idea of a dry dock in Dubai, a decade later, the government said it would build the dry dock and opened it in 1979 with three basins, one of which could accommodate vessels of million tones.
Another project Shaikh Rashid undertook was that of the Dubai International Trade Centre, a 39-storey building. For many years that building stood as a landmark of Dubai. Today, it is dwarfed by skyscrapers sprung around it, providing Dubai a Manhattan skyline.
In 1985, Dubai launched its own airline, Emirates, which two leased aircraft. Today, Emirates is the world’s fastest growing airline serving 122 cities around the globe with a young fleet of more than 170 wide-bodied aircraft.
In 1990s, Dubai began building luxury hotels and purpose-built complexes like Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai Health City, as well as industrial, commercial and tourism related projects. Following the death of Shaikh Rashid, his son, the late Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum become the Ruler and another son, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – who is also visionary like his father – became the Crown Prince at the time. Since Shaikh Rashid involved his sons in decision-making processes, the changeover is smooth.
Upon the death of Shaikh Maktoum six years ago, Shaikh Mohammed succeeded him. He has launched new initiative that would be written down in gold letters in the history of the nation.
Dubai undertook many huge projects including The Palm Islands that would lengthen Dubai’s Coast line from 72 kilometres to 192 kilometres. Dubai invests in huge projects like The Palm Islands because, in the words of Shaikh Mohammed, “If you want to market your investment and opportunities, they must be visible – they should not exist only in maps or drawings.”
Risk-taking A Crucial part of Dubai Style of Governance
One common Thread throughout the history of the Al Maktoum family’s rule in 1833 until now is the uncanny ability of successive rulers to foresee the unfolding of political and social events and take decisive steps to stay ahead of the times.
The defining moment of Dubai’s evolution as a mercantile centre was the exodus from Lingah in 1902. When the merchants migrated from Lingah, what they brought with them was a lucrative business with India and other countries – asset creation with great ingenuity.
Dubai took up ambitious mega projects to make it visible in the world. Although it did not have a hotel worth the name in the early 1960s, it is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for building the tallest hotel in the world. Its airlines, Emirates, are known not only for its young and modern fleet, but also for comfort and service. In e-government, it is far ahead of the centuries in the region and almost on equal footing with some of the developed centuries in the world.
In spite of less dependence on oil, Dubai has one of the highest GDPs in the world. The Rulers have been visionary and well-focused. Shaikh Rashid was very focused on trade and re-export. His sons have been focused on different areas such as the knowledge economy as times have changed. The emirate is being managed with simple but precise goals: A place where people are happy, where they enjoy their work, their lives and their families.
Risk-taking is a crucial part of the Dubai government’s role and style. The government appears on the scene as a risk-taker and moves to the sidelines once the assets are in the place for the merchant community and entrepreneurs to take on. This risk-taking style is a trait inherited from the tribal past: The Shaikh is there to lead and protect the tribe. That is what Dubai has been doing. As long the present political set-up continues, Dubai would continue the style in the future.
Can Dubai’s spectacular economic success be replicated elsewhere in the region that shares a common heritage? The answer is that the attempt to adopt some of the measures Dubai followed in creating a vibrant economy was met with success in other emirates and countries in the region, but the attempt to blindly replicate the Dubai model was met with disaster.
Because there are specific elements and historical context in Dubai’s success that go against replicating them even in countries that have many things in common with Dubai, including culture and religion. When Dubai launched free zones, people were skeptical how I could operate in the traditional environment of the Gulf region. When the concept not only withstood the test of times but succeeded, other emirates and countries began to establish free zones.
Now, there are 13 free zones within UAE in various emirates, and Dubai leads the pack with six. Their impact on the economy of the UAE has been far-reaching. It has helped the growth of foreign direct investment and expanded net no-oil exports.
In other areas, the attempt to copy Dubai by other countries was met with failure. Dubai has been holding shopping festivals for the last several years. The month-long Dubai Shopping Festival is held during the cooler months to attract shoppers from around the world.
After the 9/11 incidents, when Arabs found travelling to Western countries uncomfortable, a good number of them turned to Dubai as an alternate distinction. Dubai could do this because it has the infrastructure comparable to any developed country.
Dubai is also known for talking bold decisions when they are required to protect its interests. Since Dubai has been projected as a tourist destination, both for business and leisure, it has build some of the most beautiful and luxurious properties and allowed them to run to cater to the needs of discerning customers.
VISIT TO SHEIKH NAHYAN
A delegation of longtime Sindhi residents in UAE recently made a courtesy call to H. H. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and exchanged historical facts about close ties Sindhi community has with UAE from the days when pearl industry was flourishing. H. H. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan welcomed the visit and suggested continued interaction. Dr. Ram Buxani, a member of the delegation presented H. H. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, his autobiographical work – Taking the High Road.”
H. H. Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and Dr. Ram Buxani
(L-R) Mohan Jashanmal, Vashu Shroff, Dr. Ram Buxani, H. H. Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Girdhari B. Whabi and a guest.