GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Abba Omar
First Name:
Title of Paper:
The UAE’s Africa Strategy: Implications for BRICS
Paper Proposal Text :
Compliments to the proposers of this workshop. It contains a unique theme which is well worth exploring.
The paper I would be writing would draw on my ten years of experience in the GCC as South Africa’s Ambassador to Oman (2003 to 2008) and the UAE (2008 to December, 2012).
Like many of the other GCC countries, the United Arab Emirates followed a certain hierarchy of priorities which shaped its foreign policy: the Gulf, the Arab world and then the broader Islamic world. With the passing away of the founder of the UAE, Sh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan in 2004, there has been a discernible realignment of priorities with the national interest being increasingly prioritised. This has at times meant competition with other GCC countries for markets, inward investment as well issues of interventions in conflict areas such as Libya and Afghanistan. There have also been differences eg between Qatar and other GCC countries on the question of relations with Islamists, the role of Al Jazeera etc.
The UAE has had several tools at its disposal to pursue its foreign policy objectives. Primary amongst these has been a diplomatic offensive, especially encouraging the opening of diplomatic missions in Abu Dhabi while selectively opening a number of missions globally. This offensive was seen, inter alia, in the bidding for the hosting of the International Renewable Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi and for the World Expo in Dubai. The latter emphasised its efforts in ensuring that Dubai is seen as the financial and trading hub of the region. While not questioning its good intentions, the UAE has also been more open about its philanthropic contributions.
There have been some challenges to what in many ways is a good relationship between African states and the UAE. One of these is the differences over Morocco and the Saharawi Republic – especially when the latter was recognised as a member state of the African Union. Also, UAE complicity in the NATO-led intervention in Libya despite a different approach being taken by the AU was a source of concern. This placed some strain in the relationship South Africa which, as a key African state, was seen as embodying differences with some of the Arab, and especially the Gulf, countries.
SA’s membership of BRICS in itself is not uncritically acclaimed nor universally endorsed. Arguments have been presented that since Nigeria as the most populous of the African states, and due to recent re-basing, having a larger GDP than that of South Africa should be considered as a member instead. Also, some voices have suggested that Egypt should become a member as well – given its straddling of Africa and the Arab world.
The paper shall trace these and other relevant developments as part of the background to look at UAE’s relations with the BRICS countries. Apart from drawing on personal experiences, the author will interview some of the key individuals involved in UAE/South Africa relations and South Africa’s relationship with BRICS. The paper shall especially attempt at providing a prognosis for possible directions the relationship between the UAE and BRICS could evolve.