Local governance in Yemen [Archives:2008/1145/Local News]

April 10 2008

By: Abdul-Baqi Shamsan
[email protected]

The writer of this article differs from the ruling party, opposition and even international organizations concerning the local government that is usually referred to as decentralization.

I have carefully examined the different projects proposed by the authority on local governance as explained in pertinent programs, literature and law drafts. I have also reviewed the Joint Meeting Parties' claims of comprehensive political and national reform raised in 2005 and in their presidential candidate's platform during September of 2006. Moreover, I have made sure to acquaint myself with the kind of technical assistance provided by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and other international organizations to prepare decentralization-enhancing strategies.

It is quite clear that each party has its own reason for supporting decentralization. Advocating decentralization, the ruling party intends to succumb to donors' pressure who ask for more political and administrative reforms that can qualify Yemen for increased international support. This approach is actually wrong.

Calling for decentralization, the opposition parties aim to pull the rug out from under the president and transfer authority to the local councils, as they have failed to make the president relinquish any part of his power to the central authority.

As for the international organizations, including the UNDP, they are calling for decentralization as part of their reform portfolio that aims to foster involvement, promote democracy and achieve good governance within the frame of the millennium and sustainable development goals. Although I don't question their objectives, international organizations might have agreed with the opposition to pull the rug out from under the president and spread it over the whole country regardless of what would happen later.

The international organizations seek to achieve an essential goal: building a fair society through building human capabilities, more involvement, more options for the citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, race or religion. Their vision is based on two main points: inclusiveness and accountability. Inclusiveness means that all citizens enjoy that a number of their basic rights are guaranteed, including equality before the law and the right to equal participation in governance. On the other hand, accountability signifies that the parties elected to run public affairs are accountable before the people for their mistakes and shall be rewarded for their successes.

Given their philosophical, intellectual, and political bedrock, the technical consultations provided by international organizations are undoubtedly the gist of humanity's governance experiences. Yet there is no harm in acknowledging the idiosyncrasies of specific societies, especially fledgling and floundering democracies. We don't mean that idiosyncrasies entail a justifiable a pretext for being different. However, we mean that international organizations should take special characteristics of the locale into account before creating a modernized reform strategy. Taking this into consideration, we will eventually have, even if it requires modifying the overall visions of international organizations, results in reality.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that faces the local authority advocates is not manifest in the procedural and technical audit nor in the necessary legal provisions. However, the crux of the problem lies in the tendencies of political elites and their belief in local authority and its limits and their sensitivity towards their interests to protect their positions and influence. As such, there will be no real crossover despite the fact that there are well-drafted legal provisions. What adds insult to injury is the weak political parties, the monopoly of one single party, the feeble NGOs and their link to the ruling party in the country.

There are other two challenges: one of them being related to the extent of social structures' response and readiness to be melded within the framework of the national state. The developmental political process in Yemeni society has failed to meld the basic identities (localist, tribalist, blood bonds) into a national identity due to political and military conflicts within and between the former two parts of Yemen.

There were localist/tribalist groups dominating the scene prior to the birth of the modern state in what was called “North”” and “”South.”” Such groups remained in power due to their influence over the state organization. They gave power and representation to other groups on tribal and local basis. They didn't reconstruct the political arena on the basis of citizenship and competence. If one personality of a tribal group was changed or transferred from one position to another