Yielding to Yemen: an International Call.

It may be well and good to state that a roaring economy will be the key to development, but how can an economy 90 percent based on drying oil wells begin to diversify? Like many other middle eastern countries, Yemen faces a challenge that cannot be exported like most of its current economy. The answer may be discovered after an examination of Yemen’s country profile and local community infrastructure development.

The world manufactures eight million new guns every year, adding to the 875 million known firearms that are circulating internationally (MacInnis). Of that figure, 270 million belong to U.S. citizens and according to the Small Arms Survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, another four and half million of those newly manufactured guns will be added to the U.S. by Christmas (MacInnis).

Of course, weapon ownership may correlate with stability, wealth and development, a claim assuredly evidenced by India’s and China’s second and thirdly ranked civilian gun arsenal ownership (MacInnis). One would assume that on a per-capita basis that the U.S. too would triumph—a recognized truth (MacInnis); yet actors like India and China disappear from the stage.

Enter Yemen: a country ranked second in most heavily armed citizenry with estimates placing 61 guns per 100 people (MacInnis). A country bleeding with historical discord, political division and economic volatility, Yemen faces a mountainous challenge acquiring constructive and conducive development.

Strategically located on the ancient spice routes connecting Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (Yemen Profile), Yemen sits at the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula (NY-times). Assumed to be one of the possible locations of the Biblical kingdom of Sheba (Yemen Profile), Yemen was known to the Romans as Arabia Felix or Happy Arabia and Augustus Caesar himself sought to annex it (NY-times). Caesar’s failed attempt led to the Islamic caliphate rule in the 7th century and solidified continued Islamic imam’s theocratic political rule—a system that endured for centuries (CIA).

Northern Yemen became part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918 and claimed itself a republic in 1962 (Yemen Profile). Southern Yemen was ruled by the British until 1967 (CIA) and three years later when Marxists claimed rule over Southern Yemen, an exodus of hundreds of thousands occurred, pouring people into Northern Yemen (CIA) and triggering a Civil War that lasted two long decades (Yemen Profile). This conflict also served as a “proxy conflict (NY-times)” in the cold war, salting the Soviet Union and U.S. battle wound (NY-times).

The ‘unified’ Republic of Yemen was officially born in May 22nd, 1990 (CIA) and represented a mismatch of traditional North Yemen with Communist Southern Yemen (Yemen Profile). After a short civil war that ended with the defeat of the southern separatists in 1994 (Yemen Profile), slight progress was made in 2000 when Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to a ‘delimitation’ of their border (CIA). However, fighting in the northwest between the Yemen government and the traditional Zaydi Islamic Huthi rebels (CIA) returned the rugged landscape to an unpromising battle arena (NY-times).

The boiling point of Yemen political madness (thus far) came in late January 2011 when anti-President Saleh protestors (NY-times), inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, refueled their separatists agenda and called again for succession (CIA). Yemen President Abi Abdullah Saleh has ruled authoritarian style for 33 years and has gained an increasing amount of control over the Yemen government, while the country itself has continued to decline.

Pointing to high unemployment, poor economic conditions, and corruption (CIA) as evidence of the failings of President Saleh, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled noonday on March 18 and were opened fired upon by government officials (NY-times).

Three days later, five Yemen army commanders and one of Yemen’s most important Islamic tribal leaders shifted their allegiance to the protestors (NY-times) and the Gulf Cooperation Council called for Saleh’s immediate transfer of presidential powers in exchange for prosecution immunity (CIA). Saleh’s initial rejection to the proposal was shortly curbed after an explosion in June occurred, leaving Saleh injured (CIA).

With presidential power hesitantly transferred to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in April 2011 and officially granted in February of 2012 (NY-times), hope for democracy in Yemen has made progress. However, national dialogue surrounding a new constitution will ultimately prescribe symptoms of development in this globally pivotal country (NY-times).

Pivotal country? How, one might ask. Yemen has become a major player in Al-Qaeda’s quest for secure base locations. After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and training base closings in Pakistan, Islamic militants (Yemen Profile) have sampled and selected Yemen as one of (if not the) origin of continued al-Qaeda clout.

As early as 2009, after the failed Christmas day airline attack by the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda surfaced, greater strides have been made to halt insurgents and resurgent’s (Yemen Profile). However, anti-governmental influences have allowed al-Qaeda hawks opportunity to swoop in and establish positions in once-secured locations, like the Abyan province in 2011 (NY-times).

Though Mr. Hadi holds the title Chief of State, former President Saleh’s influence continues to create a stench of credible government initiatives, even those led by Hadi. Saleh’s power is most affluent through his remaining relatives in positions, which are most dominant in Yemen military sectors and copious government security agencies (NY-times). Hadi has been cautious and even reluctant in shedding positions from Saleh’s regime of family and supporters, thrusting doubt into the eyes of a nation nearly blinded with bitterness and distrust of government. Why the hesitant approach by Hadi to reform the government if Saleh’s surviving society is such a dilemma?

An accelerated solution to this question came on September 11th, 2012 when the fifth assignation attempt on the Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmed (appointed by Saleh) left 12 dead (2 Dawood). The defense minister is listed among Al-Qaeda and the former regime’s most wanted persons, according to Nabeel Al-Sharjabi, a political science professor at Sana’a University (2 Dawood). The bombing took place in Yemen’s capitol city, Sana’a, in a location considered to be one of the most secure in the city because of its vicinity to the Russians embassy and many Yemen government institutions (2 Dawood).

Swiftly issuing a half dozen other position decrees including the replacement of several governorates, Intelligence Department officials, and the Defense Minister himself, Hadi claimed that all of these changes had were part of his original agenda, but were hastened by possibility of political corruption within Hadi’s own Cabinet compound (Dawood). Properly noted however, officials chosen were not new faces in government; all were recycled leaders of the same appropriate sector—or Saleh infused contracts.

Doctor Mahmoud Bokari, a political sociology professor at Sana’a University, commented in the Yemen Times that Hadi’s decrees “reflect his (Hadi’s) wish to uproot the belief that a position is the propriety of the person in charge and that new people instead of known figures be chosen (Dawood).” Yet Ahmed Saif Hashid, a member of the Yemen parliament and a political activist, stated that security and stability would never be achieved without the dismissal of essential, Saleh loyal, militant leaders.

Hashid pointed to  Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, commander of the First Armored Division, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, commander of the Republican Guards, as prime targets for dismissal (Dawood). “Unless these two are dismissed of their positions, the decrees are of no value because they are the real danger to Yemen’s future (Dawood).”

This turmoil occurred two weeks ago, yet the wound had barely been wrapped when the worst of Yemen’s destruction ripped through the country early the next morning. Igniting a sentiment of pure outrage throughout the Arab world, the American-made video that insulted Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, spread like wildfire throughout all of Yemen and called hundreds of protestors to storm the American Embassy, like the actions of protestors in Libya (Arrabyee). Muslim cleric and onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden, Abdul Majid al- Zindani, called for the immediate storm surge of Islamic followers; al-Zindani has been named to the “specially designated global terrorist” list of the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004 (Arrabyee).

Keenly aware of Islamic sentiments, the embassy staff had previously evacuated when the protestors stormed the embassy security officials; five Yemeni’s were killed by Yemeni Security Forces and Yemeni government officials hurriedly apologized to President Barack Obama (Arrabyee). President Hadi offered his “sincere apologies to President Obama and to the people of the United States of America (Arrabyee)” for the attack and ‘avowed to bring the culprits to justice (Al-Haj).’ Hadi also appointed the “rowdy crowd” as part of a conspiracy to flex the close relations between Washington and Yemen (Al-Haj).

The Yemen political system has been defined and described by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as both a transitional government and unified government. Two seemingly contradictory statements, the Government of National Reconciliation is projected to formally end its ‘transition’ and ‘unification’ process by February 2014 when the implementations of the new constitution are enacted, i.e. legislative and presidential elections (Overview).

On track to comply with all of the requirements established by the GCC, Yemen seemingly appears headed in the right direction though it’s track record is lousy to bet on. However, the reestablishment of two of supreme IFI’s may make the development race to Yemen a bit more appealing to both domestic and foreign expansion (Development).

The point blank cause of instability in Yemen historically, may directly slant toward failed politics and government corruption, but the underlying cause of the current instability in Yemen can be directly attributed to social and economic strife (Overview). Post-revolution Yemen presents many challenges such as reduced availability to fuel, which have caused electrical and water shortages, as well as increased cost of agricultural, industrial, and service sectors, causing job loss and  business closures (Development). With 47 percent of Yemeni’s surviving on less than $2 per day (Overview) and poverty levels continually increasing (more than 10 percent in less than a decade), can there be optimism in Yemen development (Development)?

The answer to that question is an absolute yes, but with a ‘but’ attached. Yes, development in Yemen is possible though 36 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and Sana’a aquifers will deplete in the next 20 years (Development); yes, development in Yemen is possible though the population is growing at a rate over 3 percent per year (compared with a regional average of 1.7 percent) and contains a population where over half of the people are under the age of 15 (Development); yes, development in Yemen is possible even with 0.6 percent of the workforce comprised by women with women earning an average of 1.3 years of formal schooling (Development).

Yes, development is possible, BUT 1) it will not happen without the help of foreign agencies and 2) it must occur hurriedly, as in within the next five years, to have any hope of independent sustainability by the Yemeni’s.

After Yemen agreed to the requirements of the GCC, two supreme IFI’s to return to the scene: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). After eight months of suspension by the World Bank due to the political insecurities and human rights failings (namely for women), the bank was able to resume activity after the united government was installed in 2011 (Development). The entry and exit conditions of an IFI are often an accurate indicator of country stability or instability and Yemen is no exception.

With this reemergence of foreign development, the optimism and hope for inclusive change in a post-revolution country could not be more evidential of potential development. However, the fragile and underlying reality of the situation is: development must materialize quickly due to fragile, political unrest and the new government must remain united and stable, two traits Yemeni’s have never possessed without corruption.

The economy of Yemen has been frail for the majority of the countries existence. Today, oil represents one third of the GDP, almost three quarters of government revenue, and 90 percent of Yemen exports (Development). Yet at their current rate of extraction, Yemen oil reservoirs will go dry in 10-12 years (Development). Because of their need for exportation and their countries lack of natural resources, oil has been the crown of the economy, leading to domestic shortage of fuels, i.e. diesel.

This has contributed to the electrical and water shortages dispersed throughout the country, leading to heightened cost of agricultural, service, and industrial sectors that must now require irrigation, transportation, and domestic marketing strategies, which in turn added to the decrease in across-the-board production and virtually erased the chance for diversified exportation (Overview). Perhaps the only silver lining in this dark cloud has been the stability of the exchange rate throughout these crises, along with global financial crisis (Overview). Do not be fooled long; Yemen still remains one of the most food insecure countries in the world with 46 percent of children age five underweight due to malnourishment (Development).

Yemen presents a list of monumental problems, but the largest and most daunting task may be the sheer infrastructure of communities, or lack thereof. When young women are forced to travel four to seven hours every day just to fetch drinkable water (Local), even the best political development will not compensate for the lack of basic human necessities. Widespread economic & social exclusions and exhaustions are at the root of the Yemeni dilemma, but a recently introduced program by the World Bank aims at providing basic public services to all, while also creating short-term employment—and the best part is it is fast, all-encompassing, and led by the Yemeni government.

The Labor Intensive Public Works Project works like this: World Bank Senior Operations Office, Ali Khamis, a native of Yemen, will head the project knowing the countries unique geographic, demographic, and developmental challenges first-hand (Local). The project most readily aims at improving basic needs of the population and increases employment opportunity for all, but tackles this by way of cooperation between local communities and the new united government (Local).

An improvement within the social contract between the citizens of Yemen and the government is the long-term effect, but the services and programs are immediate, ready, and instantaneously seen by the population (Local). Khamis stated, “Direct beneficiaries of the project will be the people that live in dispersed, sparsely populated, rural settlements, where 80% of the investments will be made, as well as poor communities in urban areas (Local).”

The project was one of 17,000 request sent to the World Bank by the Yemeni’s, but the US $65 million that backed the project will contribute to the cost needed to allocate such basic resources throughout the entire country. The project platform cost has a two step allocation process: Yemen’s 21 governorates (Figure 3) will submit their population size, remoteness, and poverty index (Local), then the sub-projects will be screened specific to a designated area (Local).

Without the one-size-fits all approach, the project is aiming to alleviate World Bank dependency and invigorate local community development, while also solidifying Yemen governmental legitimacy through project follow-up. Khamis and World Bank officials predict that one million people will directly benefit from the services enacted by the project, 120,000 being the temporary-employed, but the social benefits from having a government in support of the opportunity for independent Yemeni development will likely affect all 24.8 million inhabitants in one form or fashion (Local).

The World Bank group works very closely with the IMF on macroeconomic dialogue, but also with the International Finance Corporation, Arab States of the Gulf Secretariat and many bilateral agencies from the sub-region (Overview). The Interim Strategy Note (ISN) is the lead source of development strategy that these organizations support and it is guided by three principles: intensifying participatory democracy and inclusion, strengthening government transparency and accountability, enhancing the operational flexibility of foreign programs (Overview).

Every development program is uniquely aimed at short-term gains, but long-term groundwork. Expanded social media tools have been exaggerated in all ISN programs specifically for the hope for remaining true to not only these principles, but also in preparation for Yemen governmental research and development (Overview).

Back in 2010, Mr. Masood Ahmed, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department of the International Monetary Fund, visited Sana’a, Yemen’s capitol. At the conclusion of his visit, he stated (IMF):

“Yemen is embarking on a three-year economic program that aims to achieve high and sustained growth and durable poverty reduction over the medium-term. The program reinforces macroeconomic stability in the face of a difficult global environment and declining oil production.”

Now in 2012, these goals have shifted from medium-term to immediate and there are now but three main areas of recognition that developmental hopes must implement readily, or fear another political uprising: the need to improve basic services, restore the economy, and build modern institutions. Restoring the economy must come first to political solidarity because without legitimacy and recognition of authority, serious reform will cease to take place, as history has shown.

How can this be checked? The ‘political space’ that is needed for the transitional government to be successful will come out of the new constitution, positive national dialogue among Yemeni’s, and corruption-free elections in 2014. Modern institutions will be a symptom of economic development as well, but are best if home-grown or accentuated by private business and domestic initiatives—not foreign or governmental.

It may be well and good to state that a roaring economy will be the key to development, but how can an economy 90 percent based on drying oil wells begin to diversify? The answer can be returned to local community infrastructure development. When international actors (IMF, World Bank etc.) prep and allow national understudies to perform, domestic legitimacy and direct influence occur. Thus groups like civil societies, youth organizations, academia, and think tanks must be utilized and prompted to engineer community development.

“…we are prepared to export to you the best kinds of Yemen (Mocha) green coffee at competitive prices for the benefits of our both firms… we shall provide you with all the information needed on various kinds of coffee and their prices, taking into account that you know very well that Yemen (Mocha) coffee is the most famous and well reputed coffee all over the world…hmmm.. al-Hamdani coffee!

(Yemeni)” Yemeni Mocha Coffee Association has been established since 2007 and supremely encourages coffee farmers all across the republic. al-Hamdani mocha coffee has been a family owned business in Yemen for 130 years and was a pillar in the founding of the Yemen Mocha Coffee Association (Al-Hamdani). This company is also the staple Yemeni Mocha coffee exporter as well as the local supplier for domestic coffee firms in Yemen (Al-Hamdani).

They were ‘the first name in the world of Yemeni Coffee’ and they have been making it ever since. Yemen has every potential to become part of this ever-developing world. A little spice from their biblical days and a bold cup of Yemeni Joe, and the Republic of Yemen should be up and ready to take on this new day.

Bibliography

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