UAE aid 'urgently needed' in Somalia

Former Ghana ruler makes plea during conference in capital.

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ABU DHABI // The former president of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings, has stressed the urgent need for UAE financial aid to help with the crisis in Somalia.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Centre for Technology and Economic Development conference in the capital yesterday, Mr Rawlings said: "Africa is Africa and you don't turn down any opportunity to assist your brothers and sisters."

The two-day annual event, organised by New York University in Abu Dhabi, focused on how to enhance economic development in African countries through technology and innovation.

Food security, energy, education and health care were at the top of the agenda.

Mr Rawlings, the African Union envoy to Somalia, said he was thankful for the "occasional assistance" towards the famine but stressed the need to go beyond that.

In the past year Somalia has been plagued by famine, drought and violence from the conflict between the armed forces and the Islamist insurgent group Al Shabab, which last week announced its official allegiance to Al Qaeda.

The former military dictator who became elected president, and who ruled Ghana for two decades, said making a change would not be easy, but would be possible with aid from the UAE Government and the international community.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, who inaugurated the conference, said the Government was making big investments in the field of technology and was excited about the considerable trade opportunities Africa represents.

Non-oil trade between the Emirates and African countries more than octupled between 2001 and 2010, to US$14.5 billion (Dh53.2bn) from $1.7bn, Sheikha Lubna said.

A self-professed "techie" with a degree in computer science, Sheikha Lubna said she had seen how technology had influenced the growth of the UAE economy.

"This is something I would like Africa and other developing regions in the world to experience as well," she said.

Sheikha Lubna said many of the fastest growing nations in the world were in Africa, including Ghana, which was last year the second-fastest growing economy in the world at 13.6 per cent.

She said it was important to understand the "full spectrum" of the various African governments and industries to be able to properly adapt and optimise technology to the continent.

"This is the rationale behind today's gathering: to share our experiences as nations, governments and industry leaders in technology-enabled growth," Sheikha Lubna said.