Challenges of development and globalizationYemeni civil society in an international context [Archives:2005/803/Opinion]

January 3 2005

By Sawsan Al-Refa'ie
For The Yemen Times

Civil society in Yemen is in crisis. Although hundreds of civil society organizations are registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, these organizations do not reflect the genuine right of free association. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have failed to revive the economy, empower marginalized groups, enhance the role of women in development, or take bold steps towards genuine political reform.

The problems facing civil society are the result of an absence of democracy within the organizations, as most Yemeni CSOs are still under the control of one person.

Staff members generally do not have a say in the organization's operations. Furthermore, most staff members lack the basic skills and knowledge vital to properly implement projects, such as English language, computer, and project management skills.

CSOs compete with rather than complementing each other and many organizations work in the same fields, targeting the same groups, working only to obtain donor funding while ignoring their supposed development mandates.

CSOs also often do not to get along very well with the government and the laws pertaining to civil organizations. Accusations of a lack of cooperation are routinely passed back and forth between CSOs and the government. The government believes that civil organizations fail to meet their minimum operational requirements and manipulate funds for their personal interests, the same organizations are haunted by the idea that the government is constantly trying to dominate them.

Unfortunately, international governments and donors are also part of the problem facing Yemeni civil society. Donors tend to insist on providing finance only in certain fields, regardless of a country's needs. Why should all projects be politicized to win funding? Aren't health, education, and human rights, all political? Why should our needs be globalized to conform to the wishes of the international community? Aren't we in the best position to judge our local challenges?

Several donors in Yemen have failed to focus on the long-term impacts of the projects that they fund, focusing only on the immediate outputs of projects including media coverage, and political propaganda.

It is bizarre that even efforts to increase dialogue between CSOs and donors end with even more dispute over directions and vision and representation of grassroots requirement remains very low in the decision making process. Recommendations developed during these meetings generally remain only as ink on paper and are not implemented. Dialogue in most cases, ends in trading accusations in an attempt to prove that “someone” is the problem, rather than working together to find what the problems really are.

The very low levels of confidence governing the relationship between CSOs and donors are unhealthy. On one hand, there are some CSOs that seek funding for big development projects that do not coincide with their internal capacities. On the other hand, donors abstain from funding grass-root organizations because some organizations are not qualified enough to administer the projects. This has resulted in the failure of some development projects on which a lot of money has been spent.

CSOs, government, and international donors must engage in sincere dialogue to achieve sustainable development. We are all responsible for improving basic education enrollment rates, providing better access to primary health services, and the alleviation of poverty. No mater what the global needs are, these are our needs. Together, we should work to fulfill them now.