Kuwait City: Kuwait is a small country of only 17,000 square kilometres and no more than 4.4 million people. Its population has grown rapidly since the early 1950s, which is a relatively brief period in demographics. The problems it faces with its dependence on foreign labour will take some time to solve.
Times have changed since the 1957 census,when the population stood at 206,000 people, of whom 55%, or 114,000 people, were indigenous. Kuwaiti nationals represent 34% of the country’s total population of approximately 4.5 million as of 30 June 2022, according to official data.
Before oil changed everything for Kuwaitis, their country developed over a relatively short period of time. The emirate was established in 1757 after emigrants arrived from nearby countries such as Najd, Iraq, and Iran. Its economy was primitive, depending largely on fishing and herding, then on pearl diving.
Soon after, trade with India and East Africa became the country’s main economic activity.
This fostered craftsmanship and various professions, including the manufacture of traditional wooden ships known as booms. Built in various sizes, the vessels were used for pearl diving and to carry out trading.
Wealthy Kuwaitis also bought large palm plantations in southern Basra in Iraq, which became a source of income until the beginning of the oil era in the late 1940s.
With the discovery of oil, Kuwait achieved substantial sovereign revenues, bringing about an exciting economic transformation, increasing the need for workers and experienced professionals in many emerging economic activities in the early 1950s.
Arabs, Indians, Asians, Iranians, Europeans, and Americans flocked to Kuwait to fill the gaps in the labour market for a host of jobs, including school teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, and construction workers.
Kuwaiti nationals were not qualified for many of the roles, especially since a significant part of public spending, which was financed by oil revenues, went towards infrastructure projects, schools, and hospitals. Therefore, there was no alternative to relying on expatriate labour.
On this journey of transformation from want to prosperity, subpar living conditions were offset by higher school enrollment rates and better healthcare after years of deadly diseases such as smallpox, measles, and tuberculosis claimed the lives of the young and old in the 1930s and 1940s.
Expats brought professional capacities and sophisticated education from their civilised home countries, contributing to advances in the quality of life in Kuwait.