Is Yemen Loosing Its Brains? [Archives:1999/34/Focus]

August 23 1999

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
While Yemen, at the present time, is confronted by so many problems and difficulties, it would be unrealistic to believe that merely pointing this fact out to the Government, to the concerned authorities, or to the rest of the world Ð in the hope that at least someone somewhere in this world could be listening and may have some way of being able to convince the authorities in the Republic of Yemen to take heed as well Ð would lead to the magic exit from our perpetual journey to an eventual demise. For years many voices have been literally crying, begging and warning that there are ominous signs that the situation in the country cannot be left to management by just “getting over it” through time and prayers. This situation continues to creep on from bad to worse and from worse to disastrous, with the society slowly finding itself unable to just adapt to the adversely blowing winds of change nurtured by an inexcusable evil drive, which looms under different legal, social and cultural covers, some of which have even taken on institutional manifestations, without any signs that good can ever have any chance of giving the verve that is needed under such dim circumstances, to slowly, but surely, inspire us to believe that indeed we have all finally reached an understanding that suffering and self Ð oppression can no longer be tolerated as the order of the day. And why should they be – just so a very few of our fellow Yemenis who have found it easy to ride this tenacious villainous current shall maintain a monopoly on all the amenities of the modern world, even if at the expense of depriving the overwhelming majority of the population of the bear minimum requirements of a free normal life that God Al-Mighty has ordained for man, and blessed the land with the resources that are enough for all, if channeled wisely and justly.
There is no question that these difficulties and problems have left no one without the perplexing question: “What am I going to do now? If there is no foreseeable way out of the mess, then the only way is to seek greener pastures elsewhere”.
Before the Second Gulf War (1990), Yemen was enjoying a much healthier situation, economically and socially, notwithstanding the fact there were inescapable trends that the future does not hold much promise, with mismanagement and inefficiency having having strong roots planted in government over the decade that preceded the crisis Ð a crisis, which for us only became a crisis due to the poor conceptual reasoning behind our policy decisions, on the issues of the day. It should be borne in mind that what ever health and signs of prosperity that held sway for that period of time was more the fruits of popular contributions to the economic well being of the nation, fostered by the million or so emigrants, who have indeed, then, found their green pastures and passed on some of the greenery to their brethren at home. In the 1970s and 80s, amidst more prosperous economic conditions, Yemen also developed a sizeable intelligentsia, thanks to a better educational environment at home, and to the thousands of scholarships obtained by Yemenis to pursue higher educational credentials at universities and vocational and technical institutes overseas. While this intelligentsia was still far below, quantitatively and qualitatively, what Yemen needed to embark on for a smooth ride towards development and healthy economic, social and cultural progress, there was sufficient reason to believe that this intelligentsia could have become a nucleus for setting the wheels in motion for further human resource development and institutional arrangements that will lead to its own expansion. It was also expected and willing to pave the way for the rest of the population to break away from the gloomy attachment to the past with all its deprivation and capitulation to unsound and constraining social and cultural retardation, brought on by a long separation from the rest of the world and from the strides of progress man has made, elsewhere, in almost every field Ð a halt in the movement of time brought on by centuries of political instability, an uncompromising xenophobia and impassable geographic barriers, which even ideas could not penetrate through.
What happened to that intelligentsia and why has it not been able to leave any permanent mark stamped on the country’s road to progress and its efforts to catch up for lost time? At the start, this small group of educated Yemenis, did not hide their enthusiasm for taking on the challenge of trying to get their country to cross centuries of time. In fact, in the early 70s most of the educated Yemenis had foregone seeking a stake in the oil boom that had made the nearby countries more lucrative to any aspiring young man to make his ambitions of prosperity and wealth at an early age. In fact there was a sense of persuasion that the challenge of uplifting their country was more rewarding and, what is even more important, much more self-satisfying. Many felt that it would be akin to treason to go take advantage of more lucrative job markets nearby, and refuse their country, whatever they could offer in terms of skills, professions and cultural and social enhancement. Recalling those early days, brings back memories of many Yemenis from this group who were enthusiastic and equipped with a strong belief that they really can offer their country something. Of course, it should be borne in mind, that individual initiative had plenty of room to maneuver then, and there was a stronger reception to ideas and innovative efforts by the government and the society. In those days sustenance was not a primary economic concern of the vast majority of the people of the country, thanks to those flowing remittances by the Yemeni laborers overseas, who were not about to deprive their kin at home of the amenities which their hard work has brought their way. It was a short lived national experience that the country can now only enjoy through recollection of the relative ease by which people managed to get by, and by which the slowly growing intelligentsia found little difficulty in finding the work that will give them some inkling of middle class status and, more important, a chance to do something meaningful for the progress of the nation as a whole. The fact that most joined the civil service was clear testimony that they wanted to insure that public good is derived out of their output.
With the economic situation rapidly going on a downslide in the 90s and, what is worse, with the channels for the flow of ideas becoming ever more clogged by the entrenchment of a less receptive regime to innovation and ideas, with highly centralized and tightly controlled communications channels, the intelligentsia lost all hopes of ever continuing to contribute to the further progress of the land, for the simple reason that there was just no means or avenue for this contribution to reach its intended target. Even those intelligentsia who have tirelessly produced tons of literature portraying their ideas and suggestions for the proper course their respective fields should be put on or their employers should take to foster efficiency and quality in the management of their respective institutions, were just that: tons of paper! The absence of any medium that could turn those ideas or proposals to meaningful live action brought on a strong sense of depression and helplessness to those who once had hopes of nothing more than to foster the development of their own country and to be recognized for nothing more than their sincere and loyal intentions. But alas, such idealism could not be recognized by decision makers, who have become the helmsmen of the regime by meeting criteria that make national interest and the welfare of the people as merely decorative slogans with out any substance or any vitality.
So, what is happening? The intelligentsia has increasingly gone to look for greener pastures also When one asks where so and so is, one is given only one of two answers: He has passed away in frustration Ð a heart att, or some other fatal symptom of frustration, or has gone overseas to find more receptive ears to creativity and innovation! Only in seldom cases is sustenance or a better standard of living, the primary cause for many of the Yemeni intelligentsia deciding to pack up their bags and leave the land they wanted to give so much to. No one for sure can give a definite number as to how many professionals and highly educated people have left to work elsewhere Ð in the Gulf, Europe, the United States, Canada Ð even Australia and New Zealand, but the number is increasing progressively. The fever has even hit some of the vocational and technical skilled crafts. This is a serious matter that should not be overlooked by the government, like all the other matters it seems to overlook, for it means that the best minds in the country, and perhaps the only hope for the country’s reestablishment in a more predictable course, will not be here, just when we need them the most. Furthermore, the present output of the educational system is far from being anywhere near the class of quality and national affinity, which this draining intelligentsia was characterized by. On the other hand, it would not be easy to attract them back, since they had left the country for the major reason that they were just fed up.