Bidding farewell to a good friend [Archives:2007/1055/Last Page]

May 31 2007

Moneer Al-Omari
Departing British ambassador to Yemen, Michael Gifford, who is much more than a good friend of Yemen and its people, is due to leave the country in June. Yemen will miss a noble and helpful friend, one who boosted Yemeni-British bilateral relations in every aspect, along with helping and supporting Yemeni non-governmental organizations.

The Yemeni-British Friendship Association chaired by Foreign Affairs Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi held a luncheon Monday in honor of and as a farewell to Gifford, who was an active member during his posting in Yemen.

Gifford has tried hard to boost Yemeni-British ties at both official and unofficial levels and as a result, British aid to Yemen has reached the highest level during his posting. Further, the British government has decided to raise the ceiling of aid to $100 million by 2020, according to Sarah White, head of the Department for International Development in Yemen.

The department currently is working to reform Yemen's education, justice and financial systems, with future plans involving taxation reform, water and planning sectors, in order to enable Yemen to implement its third five-year development plan.

Additionally, official visits between the two countries became more frequent and at higher levels, including a visit by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2004. London also hosted the Donors Conference for Yemen, at which Yemen received around $5 billion in aid from various donor countries.

“London has become one of Yemen's largest donors,” Al-Qirbi said, praising Gifford's efforts, adding that his successor should continue on the same track.

Regarding Yemen's future, Gifford indicated that he has high expectations from this country, however, he stressed the importance of continuing Yemen's reform program, which has proven fruitful, and continuing the fight against poverty and corruption.

“Britain strongly supports Yemen's reforms” Gifford asserted.

He also hinted that there's great interest among British businesses in Yemen, especially those already present in the region, but only after security concerns are overcome. “When the conditions are right, investors will come,” he noted.

Gifford's appointment wasn't confined to just official activities, but also extended to unofficial ones. For example, he supported Yemeni NGOs and raised money for orphanages, the destitute and the needy in Yemen; he often gave charity from his own pocket and collected funds to that end from both inside and outside of Yemen; and finally, he participated in various civil society activities and gave a great boost to the activities of the Yemeni-British Friendship Association.

“I know you'll care for Yemen's interests on the other side of the world just as you cared for Britain's interests while in Yemen,” Al-Qirbi said, demanding further partnership with Britain in order to solve Yemen's problems regarding poverty, corruption and unemployment.

At the sendoff, Gifford presented an outline of Yemeni-British relations from the past, present and future, noting that such relations date back to 1839, when Captain S. B. Haines and his forces landed at Aden. British presence in Aden and other southern Yemeni areas continued until 1967, when British forces left the country were driven out of the country and South Yemen was declared an independent state.

Gifford hinted that British presence in South Yemen still is remembered, especially in Aden; however, he concluded, “We should preserve what's good and forget about what's bad.”