The View from Afar
Posted Sun, Oct 25, 2009

If it’s Monday, I must be in Abu Dhabi.

This is hardly going to be a startling admission, but one of the perks of working in international law and development is the travel.  In today’s globalized economic environment, the opportunity to not only visit, but also to truly get a feel for other countries and cultures is both a privilege and a necessity.  Be it in business or  politics, the brightest future belongs to those who understand the wider world, and on the national level, to those countries which best harness the skills of citizens who do.  Understanding the customs, culture and norms which shape the thinking of people from other parts of the world is quickly becoming a necessity for any nation which expects to compete on the global stage.  On a personal level, this knowledge and the experience which generates it are both useful, and endlessly fascinating.

That being said, one can have a little too much of a good thing.  On my current trip, I have been engaged in project work in Livingstone , Zambia (yes, the city is named after whom you might have presumed), Pretoria, South Africa, and now, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  Throw in brief stops in Botswana, Johannesburg, Dubai and London, and you can understand what I mean.   During one stretch last week, I flew from Johannesburg, South Africa to Lusaka, Zambia one day; from Lusaka to London, England the next; and from London to Abu Dhabi the day after that.  Suffice it to say that I can tell you which airlines have the best peanuts and most comfortable seats.

Still, hours (or days) in transit are a small price to pay for the opportunity to get to know the reality of far away places we may only hear about on the news.  How else would one find out that South Africans are widely considered the “Americans of Africa”, by the rest of the continent (and what that actually means)?  Or that Ethiopia has a population of around 80 million people, well over twice that of Canada?  Or that in the UAE, which possesses the world’s third largest reserves of oil, this resource contributes only slightly over a quarter of the national GDP (in Dubai, oil exports only account for around 6%)?

Working in other countries makes it perfectly, and occasionally painfully, evident that there is a wide world beyond our borders about which we do not know enough.   With that in mind, I was particularly pleased that this trip would take me to the UAE.  While I have done extensive project work and/or travelling throughout the so called developing world, and particularly in Africa and Asia, I have had relatively little exposure to the Middle East.  Indeed, with the exception of Israel, I have spent almost no time in this part of the world.  Coming here then, represents a unique and long overdue opportunity to experience the reality of region which has loomed so large in world events over the last decade.

What will I find?  That, I’m not certain of, but watch this space and I’ll keep you posted.

Darren Thorne
Darren Thorne, B.A., LL.B., LL.M. Educated at the London School of Economics and Political Science (Master of Laws Degree) and Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School (Bachelor of Laws), Darren Thorne is an international lawyer specializing in international law, development and human rights. Based in Europe in recent years, Mr. Thorne has an extensive history of onsite international development work and within the last two years has been involved in project work in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Mongolia and Italy, among other places.

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