Decentralization: Is it an internal or external need? [Archives:2008/1150/Opinion]

April 28 2008

Abdulfattah Haidara
Decentralization experts say that during the early stages of a modern state, any state begins to apply centralization first in order to protect itself from division. When it comes to Yemen, it appears that the authority started applying centralization with the aim of minimizing the risk or harms to the republican principles, as perceived during the pre-unification times, and the national unity, as seen these days.

Following unity and emergence of political plurality, decentralization has become an internal need, but not an external one. Decentralization, however, can be applied through an external assistance to be determined in light of Yemen's situation. It is supposed that decentralization plans can be set up by Yemenis because they know much more about the Yemeni map from through all the cultural, social, political, economic and historic aspects, but not according to an external vision, the goal of which is more political than reformative.

While talking about the culture of decentralization in the Yemeni society, it is noteworthy to mention the following points:

The unity state has inherited a kind of local councils that seemingly suffer various obstacles, all of which are mainly related with the times of Imamate's rule in the north and the British Occupation in the south. The Imamate's rule and British Occupation had a political and strategic goal to impose political dominance in both parts of the country, thereby devastating the infrastructure of the state of law and order and creating authorities with limited powers. In addition, they created numerous political factors, represented by achieving goals of the external central power, and at the same time shifting attention away from the local authority.

The potential for democratization in the Yemen has become a popular topic for academic and policy specialists alike. Unfortunately, the subject's dramatic appearance of late has not meant that its treatment has been comprehensive. One key ingredient in a more satisfying treatment must be a comprehensive approach to the pressures and obstacles present at all levels of analysis.

Much of the work on democratization tends to concentrate on capturing the internal dynamics of reform and state/society relations which affect those dynamics. Hence, this literature often gives scant attention to the roles which external or international factors play. This is particularly perplexing in the case of our country since one of its defining characteristics is national porousness and vulnerability to external influences. A complete approach, therefore, must be cognizant of the effects which higher levels of analysis (regional and international systems) have on the dynamics at the state and society levels. Identifying and categorizing the various external factors shaping current or potential democratization is an important first step in achieving this.

Factors hindering development:

The emergence of multiple factors confined development of Yemen's local development, as the pervasive culture in the Yemeni society was negatively impacted by the authorities that governed the society at that time. Consequently, the Yemeni citizen turned to gradually have a negative impression about the local authority, considering it to serve the tribal powers. Also, tribalism and regionalism restricted development of local authorities over the past years and their influence have extended up to the present time.

As a result, the phenomenon of nepotism has become rampant. After the two Yemeni revolutions, Yemen's central laws delegated broad powers to the local council leaderships to legislate and enact laws as soon as they hold posts in order to do things according to the central authority's desire. At this point, employment has become the tool, through which the central authority can control the local governance via recruiting supporters and followers.

Through this style, the authority applied selectivity as a criterion for the distribution of job opportunities and managed to satisfy the local council members, taking into consideration their good contacts and influence on the influential tribesmen. In the meantime, the authority set up a policy for marginalizing or liquidating any opponents who disagree with its viewpoints.

Such a recruitment style ultimately led to weakening the local governance expertise and capacities, on the one hand, and creating poor modern administration means in organizing business of the local councils and running their affairs, on the other. In this way, the local council leaderships remain obediently affiliated with the central authority and never oppose to whatever decision it takes.

There is no priority in the application of decentralization in the agenda of the ordinary citizen, who is extremely engaged in price hike issues and low income rates at the expense of reforms. Similarly, the government's agenda is busy in dealing with Sa'ada war aftermath, plus the nationwide riots and violence, mainly in the southern governorates where citizens are escalating protests against the government that failed to meet their demands.