Thursday , June 30 2022
Home / COLUMNISTS / Andrew Mwenda / No one size fits all

No one size fits all


How Dubai, a city state ruled by an absolute monarch, challenges Western notions of rationalism and individual autonomy

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | I spent the whole of this week in Dubai, the second richest emirate of the United Arab Emirates. It is a city-state that both impresses and intrigues. It lacks all the elements of what we know to be “good governance.” Yet it has been extraordinarily successful in economic transformation and at political stability. This article is therefore a conversation with my friends in the Western intellectual tradition who believe that there is only one route to a good life – liberal democracy and its accompanying regime of rights, other elements of which I will elaborate later.

Dubai has a GDP of $102 billion and an annual budget of about $ 16 billion. Yet only 5% of its GDP is from oil. It depends on a highly diversified economy based on human skill to grow and generate public revenues. So, it has a financial city, a media city, a health city and a tech city. In the last twenty years it has grown at a staggering pace, from a small town to a sprawling metropolis. Its growth has been driven by services, with very little manufacturing. This defies two things: first that economies based on human skill need individual liberty and freedom to succeed; and second that transformation is driven by manufacturing.

Dubai has a population of 3.3 million people of whom only 11.48% are citizens. The rest are migrant workers from all over the world – South Asia (about 45% of the population), the middle east, Africa and Europe. So, it is a melting pot of nearly the entire world. Ordinarily this should be a recipe for social tensions yet the country is largely peaceful and people live harmoniously – no riots or ethnic and racial protests. Where liberal democracies like the USA, UK and France struggle to keep their multiracial societies together, Dubai seems to sail smoothly and seamlessly.

Received wisdom says that to develop a country needs to copy the Western political system of an independent parliament, an independent judiciary, vibrant mass media, a vocal civil society and a multitude of political parties all competing for power and influence. Dubai is a traditional monarchy without elections, and all the above attributes. The traditional ruler, the emir, with a small council of advisors decides what is good for his people. It is even hard to distinguish between the private wealth of its traditional ruler and the public finances of the state of Dubai.

Dubai teaches us that for countries to develop, they do not necessarily have to mimic everything the Western world does. And if they have to borrow from the West, it has to be in their own way, at their own pace and root new ideas in their culture, nourished by their traditions. It is possible that Africa’s endless pursuit of the Western governance ideal explains in large part the source of our crisis. Indeed, even in the West itself, things do not work according to the governance ideal we find in textbook descriptions.


  1. thanks and i like your column, n.b Uganda w’ld have 2 some level, but no country or nation can develop having one leader 4 over 30yrs.

  2. You have forgotten that Dubai is being ruled under the Islamic Shariah Law (Islam completely) which you people are so negative or naive or Ignorant about. so now I do recommend you to start studying and learning Islam from the right sources other than hearing from the enemies of Islam who know nothing at all

    • What about syria

      It is been rule by what.

      • You sound someone who is Naive or Ignorant about what Islam is and what The Shariah Law is. otherwise if you really knew what Islam is, then you would not have asked such a Question.
        But let me help you.
        Not Everyone who speaks Arabic language is a Muslim.e.g.Southern Sudanese and many Sudanese in General,etc
        Not Everyone with an Arabic name is a Muslim.e.g.Many Lebanese and Iraqi’s who are Christians but speak Arabic language and also have Arabic names….

        One Thing which also you should know is that “Islam” it self is so perfect beyond perfection (And It will rule this whole world whether you like it or not), but human beings (Mankind) and Jinn Kind are not.

        If a Munyarwanda kills Ugandans with a lot of hatred and envy, it does not mean that all the Rwandese or all the people in Rwanda are bad people.

        If a Selfish Muganda betrays his fellow Baganda’s, it does not mean that all Baganda’s are Bad people.

        So now you should be prepared to “Un-Learn” and “Re-Learn” things in the right divine order….otherwise you sound like billions of other people out there with Vague and corrupted beliefs and wrong perceptions, Truth and falsehood all mixed together, what is Right looks wrong to them, and what is wrong looks Good and Ok To Them.

        hope that helps you.

      • And another thing you should know is, Syria is not governed nor ruled by “Shariah Law”.
        Syria is governed and ruled by the so called “Fake Democracy” as Uganda is exactly.
        Fooling people and casting spells and bribing them exactly you see how Museveni and his Government are doing… exactly how many Arab countries are being ruled, with the exception of “Saudi Arabia”, “UAE”, and etc….

  3. Mwenda must be on a self cleansing mission. Whichever way, bravo…….I can only ask him…..”what took you so long to see and accept the obvious…….federo….

  4. It’s a stretch to claim that the emirates are culturally diverse, and harmoniously so, given that the vast majority who are immigrants do not enjoy the rights of citizenship and are primarily situated at the bottom rungs of the economic structure. It is true, however, that there are a multitude economic-political models that can lead to prosperity.

  5. The way Andrew Mwenda has become so materialistic, more and more confused especially about: what is right and wrong; what works or doesn’t work; just or unjust; good or evil, now envies Absolute Monarchism.

  6. Recent history abounds with miracles where leaders have done some serious thinking. The Cuban and Tanzania healthcare miracle, the Vietnamese coffee boom,the Rwandese sparkle and of course the usual tigers of Asia. I hear in Dubai businesses aren’t taxed out of existence, the priests are not running to meet the president because someone has mentioned Islamic banking and those doing construction and civil works are from decent origins.All we have here are well connected middle men whose business is to peddle influence..And to some extend the Afagnistan will show that Islam theft is more humane than that by professed Christian westerners. Next time please inquire about the price of water in Dubai and we compare with our own .
    Thank you

  7. 1. The World has a young population that is excited with stuff that glitter like Christmas tree decorations. Nations like Singapore(You should all visit the Marina Bay Sands and understand what i am talking about)Thailand,Dubai,china have more modern buildings and Hotels compared to those in Europe and USA however;the Americans and British still manage most of their architecture designs,service Emirates planes and ICT infrastructure.Actually interms of rich history and and real tourism its better to visit virgin Africa and Europe.
    2.Most of the rich Arabs are lazy;they believe in paying for every service.
    3.The Arabs are mostly disciplined and honest they rarely cheat others;although they are not social people.
    4.Dubai and the tiger nations have a flexible visa systems that makes travel and business easy.
    5.Uganda and other parts of Africa may not develop as fast as Dubai because of the complex social infrastructure;In Uganda for example; Rajab’s clan members can oppose the construction of a railway line simply because the hill that the railway land is supposed to pass is where they practice witchcraft and its a big deal for them ans some how government is black mailed to pay off the witches.
    6.Africa stills lags behind interms of development because the decision of everyone still matters.
    7.Dairy Farming is now one of the “cash crops” in Uganda why are the Acholi chasing the Baalalo grazing cattle out of their land?Cant there be a win win situation where the Acholi local government can make the Balaalo pay some money for grazing cattle on their land?

    • Winnie while I appreciate your assessment and agree entirely, I take issue with your characterization of Arabs as “lazy” I admire your intellect and contribution to these discussions and hope you will remain as objective as you usually are. With that said, I believe Arabs pay bazungu to do their work because they know that the best brains are more useful to help you if you can pay for them.

    • Winnie, there is no such a thing as win, win situation between the Balaalo and the Acholi. simply because, between 1986 up to 2005, the Balaalo in government decimated the cattle of the Bacholi, in addition to trying to depopulate the Bacholi themselves through the dehumanizing IDP Camps, where in average 1,000 children died per week (ministry of Health and Unicef Reports).

      In other words, the Balaalo are covetous and green with envy. Therefore want to occupy the vast and fertile Acholiland. That is how and why there is no win win situation. The Acholi people can develop their own Dairy industry. There was Already a Stock Farm (Aswa Ranch) but the Balaalo in Government who do not want to see the Acholi prosper, can’t stand such an infrastructure in Acholiland. Hence together with some opportunistic Acoli, want parcel out Acwa Ranch land to themselves.

      Otherwise, this is the 21st Century why should we still be having primitive itinerant nomads inconveniencing other Ugandans with their cattle/animals and spreading diseases.

  8. Yes,this country would have grown up earlier but the only thing is that,”one ruling leader can’t make this country to grow up”.but the only thing to do is that,”we must change.we put another leader,and that one is “HE.ROBERT KYAGULANYI” (BOBI WINE).”okay”

  9. While you are wright Andrew …mostly, the question is not whether absolute monarchs are good or bad for nations. Just look at China, Brunei, Emirates etc. The question is …if you decide to rule a nation for life
    1. Are you fair and just allowing national resources to be distributed evenly?
    2. Have you curbed graft and corruption to manageable levels so that its not just your tribe and family benefitting ?
    3. Do you have a clear development plan that is crafted by experts and not subject to your whims and approval at every turn.
    Museveni cannot answer yes to all the above and that’s the problem with your central thesis Andrew. On the face of it, absolute dictators sometimes do well especially when they have a resource like oil money to hoodwink the masses and bribe them not to look at human rights. But the evidence shows that overall if you don’t have oodles of money to drug the people, your days are numbered. Just ask Gaddafi, Ceausescu, Mobutu, Amin, M7, Mugabe, Pol pot, Putin, Saddam, Tito, Hitler, Trump, Castro, Kim Il sung, Mubarak , Bouteflika, need I go on my dear Andrew……?.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *