Washington DC USA
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was deposed after almost 33 years of brutish rule in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2012. The quelling of a long reigning tyrant brought forth a glimpse of hope that Yemen could put itself somewhat near the road to socio-economic recovery. Unfortunately, violence attributed to AQAP as well as groups under the Ansar Al-Sharia umbrella have caused almost daily widespread violence in the country. The result has been a virtual war between the Yemeni military’s counter-terrorism forces and armed militants. However, it is important to look at Yemen’s long-term future with relation to its development.
The true stem of all problems is Yemen’s inability to economically develop. This is unfortunately a continuing problem that was not addressed under Saleh and has perpetuated itself into Hadi’s tenure as president. Yemeni oil-production makes up 25% of its GDP and almost 70% of the country’s revenue. However, Yemen has tried to harness some reserves of natural gas out of fear that oil production in the country will peak within the next 15 to 20 years and ultimately run out, thus removing a chunk of its export economy. Oil is not the only resource running dry as water in the country is also set to run out within about the same time frame if not sooner. The rest of Yemen’s economy is largely made up of jobs related to the Agriculture Sector, labor, and industrial positions. To make sustaining resource development more difficult, Yemen’s current population growth rate is at about 2.5% and its unemployment rate near 35%. In the long-term, Yemen will ultimately begin to feel its economic strength collapsing.
If Yemen is to fix its socio-economic problems in the post-Saleh era then there needs to be major reforms that begin with the government. The political culture of corruption that shrouds Yemen needs to change if economic change is to occur. If there is no transparency in decision making on behalf of the government while weighing the voice of the people, then development on any level cannot occur. There needs to be open and free dialogue committees that represent the interest of the people while allowing the government to make decisions based on popular interest. Mobilizing the local level of government may be a key catalyst in amplifying public opinion of decision-making and seriously strengthen civil society. The government has recently opened dialogue with AQAP militants however, the needs of the people have to be taken into consideration as a priority. If additional focus is placed on improving infrastructure, opening public-sector opportunities of employment at the local level, and improving the quality of education, then there may be a glimmer of hope for change.
On the international level, it is important for Yemen to work with International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and IMF. Temporary multi-lateral aid is not a permanent solution, however it is patchwork that Yemen needs to stand on its own two feet for the short term. Yemen also needs to make its limited exports more powerful to sustain growth in a long-term agenda. Nations such as Angola have made bi-lateral development agreements with super-powers such as China and the United States. In exchange for energy resources, Chinese or American companies will build roads, hospitals, and generally improve infrastructure in under-developed states. Bi-lateral development is certainly an option that could stabilize Yemen and improve its development index. If Yemen does not diversify its approach to economic development, then the post-Saleh era will perpetuate the same problems during his reign.
George Kosmidis is an International Security Analyst based in Washington DC