FORBES AFRICA was at Expo 2020 Dubai to witness the tech-filled finale of the multi-billion-dollar, 182-day global event that also brought all of Africa.
The party was on for six months.
And on a balmy night, under a gold dome in a grand spectacle of sound and light that saw hundreds of performers and several thousand diverse and starry-eyed visitors, the curtain came down on the Expo 2020 Dubai that brought through its gates an estimated staggering 23 million visitors.
The closing ceremony of the world gala in the UAE emirate last night (March 31), had thousands of visitors streaming in well into the wee hours for the live shows, fireworks and pyrotechnics.
Even as Grammy award-winning singer and headline crowd-pleaser Norah Jones said it’s her first trip to Dubai and dazzled in a grey sequinned dress at the piano singing the soulful Come Away With Me, and as thousands thronged every inch of space on the walkways – dodging baby strollers and e-scooters – to hear global pop sensation Christina Aguilera, the true star of the show was the Al Wasl gold dome, the all-rounder of the mega event.
The intricate lattice dome’s eye-popping technical specs? At 67.5 meters tall and comprising 13.6 kilometers of steel, it weighs 2,544 tonnes – “as much as 25 blue whales”. And under it, a sea of humanity gazing at an immersive 360-degree projection system with giant fabric screens.
At the closing event, the baton was handed over to the Japanese city of Osaka, where the next expo will be held in 2025.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th year during the expo and changed its weekend to Saturday and Sunday in keeping with the West, is home to multiple nationalities. The expo, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is being seen as “the start of a new beginning”.
Africa was well-represented too. The colorful African stalls in the world souq areas were quite the magnet for crowds, with hand-woven African baskets and print sandals selling at Dhs100 ($27) a piece.
The African Union pavilion located within the Opportunity District at the expo site spoke to the Agenda 2063 aspirations of the continent and strengthening trade links between the Middle East and Africa.
“It’s been a great experience,” says Coumba Dioukhane, a spokesperson at the Côte d’Ivoire pavilion, even as crowds queue up around us to get their expo passports stamped by the West African country.
“We were able to showcase the Ivory Coast from an economic, social and cultural point of view; this was an opportunity to show to the whole world where we are, and the investment opportunities we have.”
Similar sentiments at the Sierra Leone pavilion.
The salesman at the store inside points to the python skin for sale and a crocodile skin handbag selling for Dhs1,500 ($408). “But you know we also have gold and diamonds,” he says with a glint in his eye. “Our country was hidden but not anymore. The last six months here in Dubai have been incredible.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had also been at Expo 2020 Dubai, at his country’s pavilion three days before the finale, calling it “a seminal event… as we strive to recover and rebuild in the wake of the pandemic”.
Some enduring connections for Africa in this glistening city in the desert.