Interview with Maha Al Gargawi, Expo 2020 Dubai spokesperson

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Can you brief us about Expo 2020 in general and what it tries to achieve?

World Expos are a celebration of the human spirit. They are global events that illustrate the best of humanity, where the nations of the world come together to showcase the best-in-class solutions that drive human progress and tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. Expo 2020 Dubai is proud to be following this 170-year old tradition by putting on the largest event ever staged in the Arab world. Expo 2020 Dubai will also be the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia (MEASA) region. Importantly, it is the first mega-event of its kind to be staged since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Expo 2020 opens on 1 October, it will be an opportunity for the world to convene again in a spirit of hope. By bringing together 192 countries, it is a timely reminder of the power of global cooperation and the importance of creating a forum for sharing solutions from a local to global scale to build a better future for all.

How can Africa play a leading or active role in Expo 2020?

Africa is the youngest, fastest-growing continent on the planet. The world’s population is predicted to rise from 7.7 billion in 2019 to almost 11 billion by 2100 – with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for most of the growth over the coming decade. The UAE and Africa have a long-standing, flourishing relationship, and Expo will offer an unprecedented platform for African countries to collaborate and make connections that will drive their progress and prosperity.

The African Union will have its own pavilion at Expo 2020, one that will showcase the continent’s promise and aspirations as reflected in Agenda 2063, which addresses agriculture, transport, science and technology and health. Expo 2020’s subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability go to the heart of the continent’s future aspirations: ensuring jobs, education and healthcare for all; offering easy and equitable access to transport and ideas; and balancing development with preserving the environment for future generations.

How many African countries are participating in the Expo 2020? And how are the organizers helping these countries?

For the first time in the history of World Expos, every African nation will participate, each with its own pavilion. Expo 2020 offers an unrivalled opportunity for all countries to reach an international audience, seek investments and forge new partnerships that will open up new markets and reinvigorate their economies.

What do you think Africa can offer to the world?

The world can learn a lot from how Africa embraces its accomplishments and overcomes its challenges – ranging from the global health pandemic to climate change, sustainable food supply, and equal access to the basic human rights of education, digitalisation and healthcare.

Every country will also be showcasing its own unique culture both at its pavilions and during national day celebrations. The continent’s diverse culinary traditions will be on display at Alkebulan, the African dining hall, where seven world-renowned chefs will bring their latest creations to the table.

Expo’s extensive arts programme will include Afrobeat music, Senegal’s Ballet National and Angolan percussionists, while individual Country Pavilions will highlight everything from eco-tourism to space exploration. Visitors to Expo 2020 will also learn how Expo is supporting many grass-roots innovations via its Expo Live initiative and Global Best Practice Programme. These include a tele-medicine platform that screens and diagnoses women in rural Cameroon for breast and cervical cancers; and a social enterprise in Rwanda that is improving the lives of female coffee farmers and their families through barista training and the promotion of local coffee consumption.

And what do you think Africa will gain from the expo?

Over its six-month duration, Expo 2020 will welcome more than 200 participants, with many – including individual countries, educational institutions, trade authorities and multilateral organisations – eager to widen and deepen their ties with Africa. To enable this, Expo 2020 offers a platform for Africa to share its plans and achievements, seek investments and solutions to its challenges, forge new relationships across the continent and across the globe, and continue its shift from donor-dependency to productive partnerships.

All African countries will also be able to take advantage of extensive business engagement opportunities, from seminars and summits, to networking and product launches that will take place across the Expo calendar. An example of this is the Global Business Forum Africa which will bring the trade and investment community together to explore bilateral trade opportunities between Dubai and Sub-Saharan Africa. The GBF Africa is being held on 13-14 October. Expo 2020 will also build on initiatives such as the UAE’s USD 500-million Consortium for Africa, which was launched last year and is focused on youth and digitalisation.

How do the organisers cope up with protocols of COVID? 

Expo 2020 takes the COVID-19 pandemic very seriously. The health, safety and wellbeing of everyone visiting and working at Expo 2020 Dubai will be a priority every single day of the event, and our robust measures follow the latest guidance from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the World Health Organization.

Sanitisation stations are installed across the site, face-mask wearing will be mandatory and stringent social-distancing regulations will be followed, as well as increased deep cleaning and specialised medical facilities, including provisions for rapid COVID testing.

The UAE has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, with more than 18 million doses administered to date (as of September 2021), and all Expo and International Participant staff, volunteers, contractors and service providers must be vaccinated.

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