Eighteen months ago in April 2007, before the onslaught of the US subprime crisis and global credit crunch, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates vice-president and prime minister, and ruler of Dubai since 2006, delivered a speech in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Mohammed declared: “I can see myself visiting government departments and seeing satisfied customers and employees with enthusiasm and passion to excel and overcome challenges. I can see our government departments as the hot spot for world delegations which come to learn from our experiences and follow our practices. I can see myself passing by harbours, airports, factories and malls and see great achievements. I see international cities, throbbing with activity and vibrancy.”

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Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for the UAE, and for Dubai in particular, is not just empty rhetoric. The UAE is one of the world’s most successful small nations. Thanks to oil and gas it has the second largest economy in the Middle East, with GDP estimated in 2007 at Dh729.3bn ($200bn) and per capita GDP at more than $30,000 and rising fast, among the highest outside the OECD.

“The UAE government is now committed to a programme of unprecedented structural and policy reform,” says regional commentator Edmund O’Sullivan. “Stable, prosperous and tolerant, the UAE provides a compelling vision of what the New Gulf might be.” In short, under the robust leadership of Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE and Dubai are enjoying rapid change and development that is providing a clear lead in the Gulf. And although major challenges exist, such as inflation, the current global credit crunch does not seem to represent the problem in the UAE that it does in many developed markets.

According to the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund, the UAE’s real GDP grew by a healthy 7.4% in 2007. “This good performance will be a result of strong oil prices and the high growth in such sectors as construction, real estate, trade and foreign investment inflow,” the AMF report said last month.

Building blocks

Sheikh Mohammed’s approach and vision can best be seen in developments in Dubai which are based on six key building blocks that include tourism, trade, transportation and finance. Last year he launched the Dubai Strategic Plan – 2015, which is set to maintain double-digit economic growth (13% between 2000 and 2007), achieve a GDP of $108bn and increase GDP per capita to $44,000 by 2015. He added that the aim of the plan is to increase productivity by 4% per year and to create new sectors of growth with sustainable competitive advantage.

Sheikh Mohammed emphasised the focus on developing the emirate’s most dynamic economic sectors, adding that the plan would not be affected by oil price fluctuations.

“Dubai has succeeded in diversifying its sources of income , and reducing its dependence on oil, so that today, oil’s contribution to (Dubai’s) GNP is a mere 3%,” he said. “When I announced my vision for Dubai in 2000, I spoke of economic aims for the year 2010. The reality is that not only these aims have been realised but they have been realised in half the time. In the year 2000 the plan was to increase GNP to $30bn by 2010, in 2005 that figure was exceeded, with GNP reaching $37bn.”

Much of Dubai’s success earlier this decade stems from this visionary leadership, which is mainly driven by government policies aimed at improving the business and investment environment in addition to initiatives to establish specialised zones and mega projects such as Internet and Media City, Healthcare City, The Palm and Dubailand, along with the Dubai International Financial Centre launched in 2004. Between 2000 and 2005, Dubai achieved an annual real GDP growth rate of 13.4%, with the non-oil service sector (including financial services) being the key driver of economic growth with an annual growth rate in the period of 21%, accounting for 74% of Dubai’s current GDP in 2005.

CURRICULUM VITAE

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

2006United Arab Emirates

Vice-president and prime minister

2006Dubai

Ruler

1949Born July 22nd