Let us learn from Germany [Archives:2004/713/Viewpoint]

February 19 2004

The latest visit of H.E. Wolfgang Thierse, the President of the German Bundestag (Parliament) to Yemen could have not been complete without the session held in Sana'a with members of civil society.
This initiative, taken by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, was a message to Yemeni civil society as well as the government that the role of a strong civil society in Yemen is no more an option, it is rather a must.
Mr. Thierse was open in saying that it is the civil societies in the West that helped consolidate and on many occasions spark real democratic change. The role of a strong civil society is essential, as he says, for democratic and economic development in any country in the world. This is what many Yemeni intellectuals have been trying to convey to the government and still has hope that the government take this issue seriously.
He remarked that almost all members of the German Bundestag have strong links to their neighborhoods and civil society organizations in them. Each one listens to the complaints, worries, and recommendations of those organizations because they feel that they are major players in the political, social, and economic field in the country and must be listened to.
But he also added that such ideal harmony between decision-makers and civil society members is not an option unless there is political will and awareness of communicating and working with the civil society. There are the other conditions, which are to have a civil society that is strong and willing to make itself heard loud and clear. This society needs to have the belief in its mission and role in the country and for the people.
When Thierse was told during the session that Yemeni social organizations need to obtain licenses before starting their work, that they sometimes wait for many months before they get any license and that they are continuously under the threat of having those licenses withdrawn without reason, he was outraged and surprised.
In my opinion, Mr. Thierse was not surprised because of the process in itself, but because of the lack of understanding of the Yemeni government to the important positive role those organizations could play in support of the its own activities and plans.
Civil society organizations are most of the time an aide and companion of the government and not the contrary. This is not fully understood by our officials, who sometimes tend to think of such organizations as a threat, possibly making the government lose its credibility when those organizations do projects more efficiently and economically than government authorities.
In brief, the German example is one that we should follow and learn from. We have gone through greater difficulties in the past, but not as much as the Germans have following World War II, yet we feel weak and unable to achieve even part of what they did.
We can become as good as the Germans if we join hands and understand the real value of cooperation between officials and grassroots community organizations.
Only then will we be able to develop.