A Possible Future
Witnessing the fall of oil prices and consequently the leaving of so many foreigners from Oman, I was thinking about the possible alternatives to boost the local economy.
Oman is lucky to have some fundamental assets, which are not really and properly utilised and which could be bringing solutions to the requirements of a population, with more than 75 per cent of its people aged below 25 years, and which will have definite needs in the decades to come.
If the oil prices have little chance to return to the US$100 level, other solutions must be found. Essentially, Oman has three main assets: It has an FTA with the US, which allows products to come and go without being taxed either in Oman or in the US. Very few projects are currently benefiting from this advantage. The second asset is its political and financial stability.
The country has witnessed a steady growth; it is not invaded by hundreds of foreign banks and its conservative approach to regulations is well-known. The third asset, which is really un-used, is its relations with East Africa.
The East African region’s economy, represents a total of over US$350bn. Dubai has a share of about ten per cent of this volume; although it hardly produces anything but has good contacts, whilst Oman, given its historical ties with Tanzania and Zanzibar could play at least an equivalent role, therefore representing a volume of over US$35bn. Another asset has emerged and put in the spotlight. It is its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The role of Oman and in particular the role of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been a crucial step towards reaching an agreement on the nuclear issue. Iranians will never forget this, but are Omanis aware of this fact? If Iranian and Omani enterprises joined hands to form joint ventures for trade ties with East Africa, this could create substantial economies of scale. Iran is hardly present in Africa, but the African demand for products is massive and the very positive relations of the Omani people and business people in Africa, familiarised with the Swahili language, could make a huge difference.
Many youth start their careers in the government sector, particularly ministries. If a change in the perception of the youth could be made, where a chance would be given to them to be creative and bring innovation, then people would be hired not because of the Omanisation law, but because of their talent and novelty.
Trusting the youth is the future, so many times proven by history. Oman, unlike many other GCC countries had and will play a vital role in the future geopolitical environment. It has to develop itself as an economic centre. It has excellent relations with all the major political leaders of the world, is known for its fairness and wisdom and requires only adapting itself to the new realities.
Many projects are under discussion in Oman. We have heard for example of a Medical City, but does it make economic sense? A country with over 58 per cent of its people suffering from Thalassemia should concentrate on this disease and find solutions for Oman and for so many other countries suffering from the same tribal disease.
Specialising in this field for example could bring so many jobs. Talking about curing all kinds of diseases would definitely not attract many patients to Oman, when Dubai offers so many reputable and known centres. Enhancing the handicrafts sector, and taking into account the fact that about half of the workforce in Oman are women, why not develop it as an industry.
Oman has a vast cultural background and could benefit from its historic legacy. Others in the region do not have this advantage. Finally, I am certain that once the decision is taken by each one of us to bring changes, then everything can become possible.
The countries where economy became a success, like Malaysia which developed systems for its private sector to emerge by focusing on education, preparing a long-term vision, allowing creativity and analysing the way to benefit from its real assets. I am certain that Oman is even capable of doing better than this.