“Keeping the promise” [Archives:2004/782/Viewpoint]

October 18 2004

While I was having my evening tea, I decided to look back into the old archive of the Yemen Times. I had the folders of 1995-2004 in front of me. I skimmed through the pages, and tried to find something interesting to write about for this issue's editorial. I read through a number of reports that talked about the public's concerns and expectations. What I found was a common distrust between the Yemeni public and their government. And I'm not talking about a specific government, but rather the public in general do not trust officials, and that was obvious from the different responses of regular people about issues that relate to health, education, security, politics, etc.
I thought to myself that this is in itself a subject for an editorial, and I decided to dedicate this column to it.
So, how did we arrive at this level of mistrust, and what is needed to get our country out of this dilemma?
Ever since my childhood, I didn't want to become a politician. That also includes work in the diplomatic corp. I had the illusion that being a politician makes you unfaithful in communicating with others and extreme diplomacy turns you into a liar rather than a polite communicator.
But nevertheless, that theory of mine evolved to become more solid as days passed by. I realized that indeed, politicians do give promises, but rarely fulfill them. They speak in some ways at some times, and do the total contrary at others.
“But politicians must secure their interests and the interest of their country.” Is what one friend told me. He even suggested that when they present invalid facts as facts or make promises that are impossible to deliver, they are actually doing what they are supposed to do.
Having said that, there is also another dimension to this, and that is reaching power. For a politician, ensuring that he is appointed comes before anything else at all. It is rather more important for a politician to lie, deceive, and make impossible promises than saying the truth that would make the voter, higher chief, or president less inclined to have him appointed.
I remember the days when the government used to say that the economic reforms of the 1990's would yield fascinating results in 10 years or so. But today, the public sees that things have got worse, adding more to their distrust in the government.
Just last week, a statement by Prime Minister Abdulqader ba Jammal said that the electricity outages that have been occurring regularly before Ramadan will stop during the month of Ramadan. I may have been naive when I told my friends that perhaps this could be the case and we will enjoy a holy month without blackouts. I was made fun of at the time -a week ago- when I said so.
But guess what? The electricity went off again in the first days of Ramadan, making me think that perhaps my friends were right when they made a mockery of my trust in the government.
You can multiply this example by hundreds and thousands happenings from the level of small officials in remote areas who promise to pave streets and expand schools, to the level of top authorities in the hierarchy who claim that the future of Yemen is bright and prosperous with a decent life for all.
In brief, I believe that indeed people have not been asking for too much. All they requested during the last decade was to be delivered what they were promised.
One exact quote from an issue published in 1999 about the Presidential elections is enough to understand what Yemenis want. During the campaign, a street seller had one simple demand for the two candidates: “I just want to say that the most important thing for us is that he keeps his promise!”