Golden Days [Archives:2008/1207/Opinion]

November 13 2008

By: Aiman Al-Eryani
With the passing of the import substitution industrialization economies of the 70's, the stock market boom of the 80's, and the dot com bubble of the 90's, we seem to have missed every possible chance of breathing life into our otherwise failing economy. We hear endless talk of economic reform, government reform, and policy change. Yet, there is not a single positive outcome to be seen. Not now, nor in the foreseeable future. And really, why should we see any growth? The reforms handed down are obsolete models of “modernization” which are ineffective as well as ill-fitting. We expect western experts to solve our economic problems, when we can more effectively solve them on our own. We see other countries' miraculous growth, and we wonder. Just how do they do that? We hear news of foreign delegates coming in with the hope that they will somehow pass the miracle on to us. The Japanese experience, Chinese experience, the Somali experience, et cetera…a certain Adel Imam movie comes to mind.

I say: We will not benefit from foreign investments at this point.

Here you say: Well, how will we survive in the modern global economy?

Why do you think our employment rate is so low? Why are there so many university graduates with no jobs? Why is there a huge percentage of the work force occupying low-paying government jobs, which, for better or for worse, should have been eliminated eons ago?

We lack a veritable local industry. Our college graduates have no jobs, because there aren't any jobs. We import everything from TVs to furniture. This is how other developed countries are prospering, and we are kept behind. In other developed countries, local companies and industrial corporations are subsidized and protected from foreign competition until they are stable enough to compete with foreign products. We saw a hint of this in the agricultural reforms of Abdulkareem Al-Eryani. As soon as import of agricultural goods was stopped, there was a huge boost to our agricultural economy.

Here you ask another question: If the answer was this simple, why did we not implement this type of reform long ago?

Because the status quo is to the benefit of our beloved officials. They cut deals with foreign importers to keep their pockets filled.

Growth comes in small steps. We might experience a small slump if we implement the suggested solution, but it'll be on our benefit in the long run. Still, we have other factors which are detrimental to growth. Certain parties complain that Qat is weighing down the economy. Others complain that corruption and embezzlement within the bureaucratic ranks is the primary factor contributing to our backward state of affairs. Still others talk of the “Golden Days” of pre-unification Yemen.

While Qat is a social vice, it is the only reason we see any sort of activity in the Yemeni market. It is also one of the few choices left for farmers to see any profits from their crops.

Corruption is another factor. It is a huge obstacle inhibiting growth, but it is the logical consequence of our bloated bureaucracy. How can government employees be expected to live on a measly 20,000 or 30,000 Rials? How can they be expected to earn anymore when they do nothing but dodge responsibility, and spend hours upon hours of idle chatter? Can you remember the last time you've stepped into a government office for one signature, only to be shooed off to another, eventually spending precious days chasing after civil servants who are on 24 hour lunch breaks? Can you remember the last time you've accomplished anything without giving bribes? Worse yet, officials in the higher ranks who should be monitoring this type of corruption are doing most of the thieving. Any sort of honesty amongst these types is frowned upon, and those who show any type of self-respect are promptly cut off.

One can only dream of a utopian world. A world where these officials and their cronies would be herded up into room and taught something called 'Deferred Gratification'.

It is a term used more popularly by utilitarian's, but is really an idea ingrained in all evolved human beings. To summarize, it would mean that one must deprive themselves of some present luxury for the benefit of a larger future profit. It would not be easy to teach these officials that they must not thieve for the benefit of their children and grand-children. Those who do not understand will be made to wear dunce hats. Methods such as flogging would be utilised to ensure that they comprehend these essential foundations. It is, after all, for their benefit.

Alas, we live in a world where stupidity is the norm, and where vice is praised.

As for the “Golden Days”…what “Golden Days”?

Yemen has not had any “Golden Days” since the Middle Ages. Pre-unification north Yemen had an economy heavily reliant on imports. With money going out of Yemen more than it was coming in, it was destined to fail. As for the south, how could one call those days “Golden”? How exactly is queuing for bare essentials “Golden”? Is being stripped of all private property “Golden”? I will sum up my argument regarding this point to one anecdote mentioned in Tim Mackintosh-Smith's excellent book “Yemen – The Unknown Arabia”. An Italian diplomat stationed in Aden in the 80s applies for a visa to visit Djibouti. When asked for his reason for travel? To buy tomatoes.

One must try to remain optimistic. We have been seeing some semblance of change in the past few years. Democracy is slowly taking root, and we hope that it does not die out. We can only wait and see, and we hope for a future generation which does not have to be herded into rooms, and be made to wear dunce caps.