Kuwait

A Base for the Region – Aired July 2007

Kuwait gained independence from the British only in 1961, and has existed as a state for less than 50 years.

The country started off as a bustling trading port with most of her settlers involved in seafaring, boat building and pearl diving.

But the country’s vast wealth was due to its oil reserves. In the early 1900s, Kuwait was discovered to be floating on oil. This led to the soaring of the country’s economy, and the growth of a lucrative oil and petroleum industry.

Today, its capital Kuwait City, is a modern metropolis, and the number of real estate and infrastructure projects that can be seen all over are a testament to the country’s tremendous growth.

Her population rose dramatically due to massive immigration in the 1950s and early 1960s. And while Arabic is the official language, English is widely used and understood. Similarly, although Islam is the official religion of the state, religious freedom is observed.

2005 saw Kuwait take a further step into democracy, when women were given the right to vote – the first Gulf country where this is allowed.

Today, Kuwait has one of the strongest and fastest growing economies in the world, thanks not only to its abundant reserves of oil, but also savvy investment overseas.

And the leaders of the country are keen to maintain that economic growth.

High on the country’s scale of priorities are the principles of a free and market-oriented economy.

According to the President of the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, national policies are developed with this in mind.

One of the key areas open for investment is in the telecommunications sector. While this sector already enjoys advanced services such as broadband mobile internet service, there is still room for growth.

The CEO of Wataniya, one of the major telecommunications companies in the country explains further.

A foreigner whose family has been running a business in Kuwait for more than 50 years highlights other possible sectors for investment.

A key benefit of Kuwait is her geographical location at the head of the Arabian Gulf. Since ancient times, she has served as the gateway to the Middle East, providing investors prime access to important markets such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.

Another sector with great potential for growth in Kuwait is the financial sector. With advances in banking technology, Kuwait has her sights set on becoming the next financial hub in the Middle East.

The already thriving financial sector has experienced promising growth over the last few years, and in a bid to further develop it, the government has opened up the sector to increased participation by foreign players.

A law was passed in 2005 that allowed 100 per cent foreign ownership of banks in Kuwait.

Her financial institutions have been used to international investments for a long time, and there is an enormous amount of business for private equity, retail banking and Islamic banking.

Thanks to the wealth of the country and the high standard of living enjoyed by its citizens, healthcare is big business in Kuwait.

While Kuwait has plans to train more of her citizens to become top-class nurses and doctors, for the time being, Kuwait still requires lots of foreign help in the sector.

And because of the historic ties between Kuwait and Asia, the region remains one of the main resource centres for talent.

While Kuwait may not instantly come to mind as a vacation hotspot, the country does offer many opportunities for leisure.

Kuwait City is a shopper’s paradise. Large air-conditioned shopping malls offer some of the latest designs from top brands.

For those who want a taste of old-fashioned shopping, the traditional market, or souk, with its covered passageways lined with shops still exists. Here, one can choose from fresh vegetables and meat, to a large variety of spices, olives and dates. Shopping here offers a better price than at modern supermarkets, but some haggling is involved.

Its geographic position on the Arabian Gulf and 9 offshore islands offer countless opportunities for water sports activities. Add in year-round sunshine, and Kuwait becomes a haven for sun-seekers.

The country boasts a society that hails from nearly every corner of the earth, and frequent social events and bazaars allow the different communities to mingle.

Her favourable geographic location also means that travel, whether to Asia or to Europe is convenient.