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HOW long do we keep turning our eyes away from fears and having fun with crusts? By distributing wealth to citizens in the 1950s, did the late Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem intend for these people to enjoy false prosperity, or was it aimed to be used for building the industrial, agricultural, commercial and banking foundations and for Kuwait to turn into a productive force in the region? For more than 60 years, there have been talks about diversifying sources of income, but no progress has been made in this regard. Neither the industry sector has been developed nor have we achieved food self-sufficiency.
We have also not worked to turn Kuwait into a regional commercial base, as is the case with some neighboring countries, which took our ideas and worked on them, while we contented ourselves with “whining.” It is true that some institutions were established to distribute the state’s investments abroad and consider them as a supplementary income, but they do not change anything in reality.
Even though they were a helpful factor in alleviating the impact of the Iraqi invasion, and constituted a financial arm for the state in bridging the gaps that had risen, they still remain a single financial force that is not sufficient to diversify sources of income.
In fact, if a global crisis occurs, God forbid, it will definitely suffer major setbacks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil price fell to minus eight dollars per barrel. For this reason, the oil producing countries rushed to take advantage of it, and enhance the available income alternatives, while we in Kuwait never benefited from this lesson.
To this day, we import chicken from Brazil, potatoes from some countries, and onions from India. In short, 90 percent of our sources of livelihood are imported from abroad. With supply chains disrupted, as happened at the beginning of the Russian war on Ukraine, we faced a food crisis. The best example of that was when India banned the export of wheat to the countries of the region. Industrial and agricultural lands were not encouraged to be invested properly.
Rather, the state encouraged their conversion into commercial buildings, when it made them under the threat of withdrawal or raising fees to very high rates. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates offered investors more than 40 multidisciplinary free trade zones, and cities with highly efficient infrastructure that allow non-Emiratis to have 100 percent full ownership of projects.
In Saudi Arabia, there are more than 20 free markets, and work is underway to establish six free trade zones in the capital, Riyadh. Kuwait, which developed many studies in this regard, did not work on implementing them. It remains to this day a dead letter, despite the fact that the human and financial capabilities and land areas are available for investment.
China had turned the desert into huge agricultural areas that suffice its people – whose number is about one billion and 400 million people – with food. On the other hand, our deserts are barren, and all we care about is what the expatriates do, and why they eat and breathe. Residents of other countries add value, work force and investment.
During the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the UAE alone received thousands of Russians who came to invest in it, and it was able to compensate for the losses in real estate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that we will keep crying over spilled milk as long as we do not learn from the lessons of the past and the present. Almighty Allah said, “… Indeed, Allah changes not what is in people, until they change what is in themselves …” and given that “If you grew up with it, you will grow old with it”, it seems that Kuwait will grow old before it realizes the importance of making use of its potential. Therefore, whenever I think of our situation, I am reminded of the movie “Mouths and Rabbits”, where mouths eat but do not work.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times