DED Yemen Director, Mr. Winkelhane to YT: “The best advice I can give to my successor is to dedicate himself to his job and regard the Yemeni people as friends and open-minded partners” [Archives:2001/22/Interview]

May 28 2001

There are few personalities in the past few years who have played a significant role in helping the development process in Yemen. They have provided their assistance in the form of guidance, initiation of projects, financial and technical assistance, consultancy, and through various other ways. No doubt, one of those personalities is Mr. Gerd Winkelhane, the Country Director of the German Development Service (DED) in Yemen.
Mr. Winkelhane, who has been active in the Development field in Yemen since March 1995, will be leaving Yemen shortly to return to Germany after fulfilling his term in DED’s Yemen office. His contributions to Yemen’s development have been widely appreciated by locals and international organizations alike. He has dedicated most of the period of his assignment to addressing vital issues of concern to the Republic of Yemen, including Vocational Training, Health, Community Development, Water and Sanitation. The assistance he has delivered has been both substantive and substantial.
As a symbol of appreciation for what Mr. Gerd has achieved and for an assessment of the development of Yemen and DED’s contribution to it during his assignment, Yemen Times met with Mr. Gerd and filed the following interview.
Q: Certainly the 6 years you have spent as the head of the DED office in Yemen have enabled you to assess the situation of development in the country. Could you brief us about your assessment and where the country is headed?
A: No doubt there have been a lot of changes since the time I started my work here in Yemen. At the time of my arrival, the consequences of the 1994 secession war were still to be felt and seen in many regards. The country was still in a kind of paralysis, and it was difficult to say in which direction things would go. It took a number of years until one could realize improvement and growing stability to a certain degree. By now it has become obvious that the government is heading towards democratization and political decentralization as well as openness for ideas and suggestions from its partners abroad.
Q: What do you feel Yemen should be concentrating on within the upcoming few years, and what do you feel the new government should focus on for the sake of Yemen’s development?
A: For economic improvement Yemen should concentrate on making better use of its natural resources: fish, agriculture, oil and gas and, last but not least, sites suitable for tourism. Yemen’s rich cultural heritage could help stimulate tourism to a great extent, but there are some legal regulations and procedures that are obstacles to the promotion of tourism that should be abolished. High priority should be given to the Vocational Training sector as it is to be assumed that within the next several years some 600.000 graduates will annually flow into the labor-market.
Q: Can you please tell us something about DED’s work here in Yemen?
A: The cooperation between the German Development Service (DED) and local partners in Yemen commenced in 1979. The ultimate aim of cooperation is to support Yemeni partner institutions in improving their services and help increase the standard of living. During the course of the years, significant progress has been made, especially in the Health sector.
Q: How much in total has DED provided in the form of financial assistance and loans, and how many projects have been started and how many have been completed in the last 6 years?
A: DED’s overall annual budget, financed by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is around 130 million Deutsche Marks (DM). If you divide this amount by the number of countries in which DED is working, namely 40, the average budget per country is above 3 million DM. As far as projects are concerned, I should explain that DED does not have its own projects. Rather we support projects of our local partners. This means we can only become active upon the request of a Yemeni organization, be it governmental or non-governmental, and with the approval of the Yemeni government. DED concentrates on providing expert personnel, rather than financing projects. However, within certain limits, DED can also provide financial sponsorship.
Q: Which are the main sectors of DED’s work in Yemen?
A: Currently the DED cooperates in Yemen in the following fields: health services, vocational training, construction and infrastructure, and community and social work. The average number of Development Workers is around 25.
Q: Are you optimistic that Yemen can overcome the development challenges that it faces, and in how many years do you think that could be possible?
A: Yes, of course I believe so. One should always be optimistic. It will take quite a number of years for Yemen to overcome its deficits, but with the help of its partner countries it will succeed. The Yemeni ministries and institutions concerned with implementation of development programs deliver dedicated work in the right direction.
Q: If you could list the main challenges that Yemen must overcome in order to develop and modernize, what would those be (in brief)?
A: The main challenges to be tackled are the scarcity of water, population growth and the alleviation of poverty.
Q: Qat, water shortage, and population growth are three main problems facing Yemen’s development. If you were the decision-maker in the country, how could you overcome those problems?
A: Regarding the water shortage I see myself unable to give any professional suggestion as I am not a specialist in this field. I know that different models are being discussed such as new schemes of irrigation for example. Unfortunately, Yemen’s economic situation does not permit the possibility of desalination plants as found in the rich Gulf countries. The most important thing for the time being is no doubt the creation of a better awareness of all of these topics among the population. This is being done by different German development projects in which DED is participating.
Q: Do you believe the DED can play a more influential role in Yemen? Would you convey this message to the DED headquarters in Germany to increase its support?
A: The Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development has recently reduced the number of countries which receive support from 118 to 70, of which 38 are called ” main partner countries” and the other 32 “partner countries”. Yemen is one of the “main partner countries” to which a very high emphasis is and will continue to be given. Also, Yemen has been included among the four pilot countries for the “Action Plan 2015”, which has the objective of reducing the number of extremely poor people by 50% by the year 2015. For this purpose additional funds have been allocated. I am convinced that this decision will also cause DED’s management to increase its input in Yemen. Of course, Yemen can always count on my personal support as in the past.
Q: Who will be representing DED next? What advice would you give him as he starts his duty in Yemen?
A: The name of my designated successor is Mr. Theo Riedke. Currently he is working for DED in Sudan, which has enabled him to gather experience in an Arab country. Before taking up his work in Yemen, he will have a preparation period of about two months. The best advice I can give to my successor is to dedicate himself to his job and regard the Yemeni people as friends and open-minded partners.
Q: Will you be visiting Yemen and following up with the developments in the future? What do you expect will be your next mission in the DED?
A: There is no doubt whatsoever that I will keep on visiting Yemen regularly in the future. I have always been a friend of this country, which I had visited several times since 1979 before taking up my assignment. Meanwhile I have gained quite a number of friends here with whom I will always keep in touch. This will give me the opportunity to keep abreast of the country’s development. As for my next job, I am scheduled to work in the Orientation Department of DED in Berlin.
Q: On behalf of Yemen Times, we bid you farewell and wish you all the success in your future career. Any further comments?
A: I would like to thank all Yemenis personally for their hospitality and their welcoming manner. I have been here for more than 6 years, and I still like the country very much and feel very much at home. I have spent a very good time here and will never forget it.
I would also like to thank our project partners for their cooperation. The Yemeni government is highly dedicated to its development policy, and I am very impressed by this.
As I recently mentioned in a short interview on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the “Yemen Times”, I regard your newspaper as an important part of the democratization process, and I wish you the best success for the future. Also, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to bid farewell to all my friends and colleagues in Yemen.