Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Dubai Conference

Dubai Conference on ‘Free Zones’

My husband is working to establish a free trade zone in Nigeria. Because of that he’s attending the Dubai Conference presented by the World Free Zones Organization, at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. I came with him.

I had hoped to do some serious sight-seeing, but so far I’ve been at most of the conference sessions.

We started with a seminar on Sunday on marketing free zones. The two presenters, from Investment Consulting Associates in Amsterdam, were excellent and their material interesting. But I struggled to stay awake at the session after lunch.

Clem on screen at Dubai Free Zones Conference

Clem asked a question at this afternoon’s panel. His picture was on the huge screens at both sides of the hall. I’m beside him taking the pic.

The long flight and time change were catching up with me! The flight with one stop was 17 hours. There’s an 8-hour time difference and a long wait for luggage. We were finally settled in our hotel room at nearly 2 am, Dubai time, on Sunday.

The seminar began at 9 am. At about 2 pm I was beginning to nod. The man on my right was sound asleep. I learned later he had just arrived that morning.

Dubai Facts

The temperature outside? Right now, it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit! But the meeting rooms are cold – too cold!

So I walk outside from the Convention Centre, part of the Grand Hyatt, to the hotel’s front entrance to warm up before going to our room!

What's the small triangle at base of window?

Can you guess what the small triangle in the circle at the window base is for?

I’ve looked at a map of the region, and I’d still have a hard time pointing out Dubai. It’s one of seven entities  making up the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is the hub.

It’s an amazing place. It has less oil than other Arab states and diversified early away from dependence on the one resource. Free trade and economic zones were one major building block of its wealth. It built carefully and is today extremely wealthy.

Something like 9 out of 10 residents are not native to Dubai. I’ve met a Pakistani taxi driver, Ghanaian and Philippine waiters, a Nigerian bell-hop, Indian concierge, and Korean receptionist.

His Highness Appears

This morning we had the honor of the presence of the conference patron, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai.

Dubai traditional men's dress

Men in traditional dress in Dubai

I love saying his title and name. I heard it several times this morning.

At 10:40 am we were all told to go into the large hall for the meeting at which he would be present. We sat patiently watching at least 10 photographers lined up along the front. At about 5 minutes after 11 we saw the photographers leap to attention and come to stand right in front of the arm chairs where His Highness would sit.

He and his entourage walked in quickly as we all stood. I don’t know where he was in the group of about a dozen men, all in white. When they were seated in the armchairs at the front, we all sat.

I had to look up the name of the men’s dress. Wikipedia tells me, “Men wear the dishdash also referred to as dish-dasha or even gandoora, gandurah or even tawb or taub (long white robe) and the headscarf (keffiyeh) . . . held in place by the [black] agal.

We were shown an extremely slick video about Dubai, praising His Highness for his foresight in creating the dynamic emirate.

A staff member of the World Free Zones Organization introduced the three speakers. Each time she addressed the audience she began with, “Your Highness . . . ”

Finally the chairman of the World Free Zones Dubai Conference announced the launch of “The Free Zone of the Future” program.

I expected His Highness to speak next, but he and his people stood up and left!

Tables with food set for His Highness and others

Several tables like this were set before the chairs of His Highness and his entourage

I turned to the woman next to me. “Isn’t he going to speak?”

She said, “He never speaks.” What an impressive show of power!

Dubai Eating

The food has been amazing. The breakfast buffet takes a couple of minutes to see it all!

Lunch buffets have included salad, several Indian and Arab dishes, vegetables, rice, sweet potato gratin, breads, and other delicacies.

Sunday night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the hotel. Monday evening there was a networking reception from 6:30 to 8 pm and so much food there was no need for dinner.

Tonight was a gala dinner, even more delicious, at another hotel. I’ll be at the gym tomorrow morning for sure!

Buhari and Corruption

President Buhari says he is determined to deal with corruption in Nigeria. He is active at home and is also carrying his campaign abroad.

I read in Africa News online that he, “is one of the world leaders scheduled to speak at the opening session of the [London] Anti-Corruption Summit with others, including Prime Minister Cameron and the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim.”

No one I know believes that rooting out corrupt practices in Nigeria is easy. There have been too many participants, for too many years, with too much to lose. But I believe he is sincere.

The article said, “In his address to the summit and interactions with other participating leaders, President Buhari will urge the international community to move faster on the dismantling of safe havens for the proceeds of corruption and the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin.”

At the same time, he is accused of using the campaign. Some say his anti-corruption drive is actually aimed at destroying political opponents. I hope they will be proved wrong.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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