The UAE is a beacon of hope for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. These are not the words of UAE nationals who are proud of their country, or the words of UAE residents who have sincerely embraced and adopted the country as their own.
This is one of the points from two recent reports: “World Happiness Report 2013” by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network; and “The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14” by the World Economic Forum.
World Happiness Report 2013 considers the UAE the happiest country in Mena. And according to the report, the Mena region is among the world’s least happy. The region has lost 0.637 points of happiness from its previous position of around 5.5 (on the 0 to 10 scale of the Cantril ladder). Seven Mena countries experienced a significant decrease in happiness levels.
The UAE, on the other hand, has improved its happiness levels by 0.410, allowing it to reach 7.144 points. Consequently, the country has moved up three places to 14th in the world, outdoing the United States, Ireland and Luxembourg, and maintaining its position as the happiest country in the region.
As far as competitiveness is concerned, The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14 puts the country in second place regionally and in 19th place globally.
The World Economic Forum defines a competitive country as “one that is likely to grow faster over time”. In its report, the WEF shows that the UAE has jumped up five places to 19th spot, overtaking France, Luxembourg, Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. It classifies the UAE as an “innovation-driven economy”, a classification it shares with only one other Mena country.
Of all the Mena countries, only the UAE has made huge progress in competitiveness. In fact, most of the Mena countries have registered deterioration in competitiveness. For example, Egypt is ranked 115 among the 143 surveyed countries, dropping eight spots from its previous position of 107; Morocco has moved down to number 77 from its previous position of 70; Lebanon has lost 10 spots, sliding down to 101.
Why did the UAE progress while most countries in the region regressed? Its macroeconomic stability and the strength of its institutions are major parts of the reason. Most Mena countries have experienced weak macroeconomic stability, but the UAE has had solid stability, ranked number seven in the world.
While most people in the Mena region have lost faith in their politicians and institutions, the UAE has maintained strong public trust in politicians and experienced high governmental efficiency, which the report ranks at number three and number nine respectively.
The country’s fiscal situation is another part of the reason. The UAE has budget surpluses, public debt reductions and high savings rates.
In addition, the country’s productivity has increased as a result of implementing massive information and communication technologies (ICTs) and mega infrastructure projects. The UAE’s overall infrastructure quality is ranked number four in the world, while its road and air transport infrastructures are ranked at number one and number three respectively.
It is expected that the infrastructure and ICT quality will further improve as new projects are completed. The Abu Dhabi Executive Council has recently approved projects worth billions of dirhams and the Dubai Government has announced initiatives such as the Dubai Smart City project, which will further strengthen the country’s position in these two areas.
It is great to see international organisations telling the world about the UAE’s progress and accomplishments. This should make UAE nationals and residents equally proud, as they both have contributed to this success.
Nevertheless, this success should not cause complacency to creep up, as there is still a lot of work to be done.
To sustain and build upon what has been achieved, the areas for improvement highlighted in the reports should be examined. The WEF indicates that the country should pay attention to health and primary education, higher education and training, innovation and technological readiness.
These are areas where the country scores below the average of the 37 innovation-driven countries.
Indeed, considering the country’s small population, health and education quality and innovation should be the key enablers for future economic growth. The two reports have many causes for celebration, but at the same time they also have many causes to keep up the hard work and continue the trailblazing.
Ebrahim Hashem is a senior adviser in business strategy and corporate governance at an Abu Dhabi-based company. He can be contacted via twitter @EbrahimHashem