The UAE’s Africa Policy Is Full of Contradictions

The UAE’s Africa Policy Is Full of Contradictions
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, attends World Government Summit at the Dubai Expo 2020, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 29, 2022 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Dubai’s Expo 2020, the international fair hosted in the United Arab Emirates, closed last month to rave reviews. The mega event, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but retained its official name for marketing and branding purposes, ran from October 2021 to March 2022. In that time, it recorded more than 24 million visitors from more than 190 countries, according to the fair’s official website, with hundreds of millions more visiting virtually. That traffic reflects Dubai’s status as an emerging global hub between the Middle East and Europe on one hand, and Asia—particularly South Asia, from where more than a third of the UAE’s residents reportedly come from—and Africa on the other.

For Africans, including the many who attended, the expo presented the continent with an opportunity to capitalize on geopolitical shifts, both globally and in the Middle East. And African participation at Expo 2020 further underscores the desire among governments and the public for broader international engagement beyond the “Big 3” of China, the United States and the European Union.

The UAE, in particular, has long been emulated for its economic transformation and development by many Africans and their governments, with the “Dubai model” regularly cited as an example for governments around the continent to follow. Dubai is a popular destination for business travel, economic migration and tourism among Africans, not least because of the UAE’s relatively liberal visa rules compared to Western countries. Emirates Airlines, one of the UAE’s two flag carriers, now flies to and from nearly 20 African countries, including cities like Lagos, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Nairobi and Luanda. Dubai’s reputation as a vibrant, economically advanced and safe city in a politically stable country contributes to the UAE’s attractiveness to many Africans, as does its status as a global city in a Muslim-majority country. Large numbers of people from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon and other African countries also live in Dubai and the other emirates, as students and guest workers alike.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review