Policy LineFragile perspectives [Archives:2005/854/Opinion]

June 27 2005

Fatima Fouad
[email protected]

There is a long menu of development and political requirements that needs to be addressed by the Government of Yemen in order to achieve social, political and economic change. Where to begin is the million dollar question. It actually costs more than a million dollar if you calculate the amount of armored Land Rovers and security installations that the development missions perceive crucial to enable them perform their tasks in this country.

Security is one of the major problems that hindered long term development investment in Yemen. However, when International Agencies talk about Security, they do not necessarily mean the security of Yemeni people or even include conflict. They often stress fear of Extremists as a main factor that disturbs the way they operate. They also think about the security and well being of their own staff who might not be welcomed by a strict Yemeni society. While the concern is legitimate, the difference between the concept of security of staff and security of a country is not visible anymore. This had lots of negative impacts on Yemen as it is now viewed by lots of agencies who work in and outside of Yemen as unsafe and unwelcoming.

From a foreigner's perspective, there is a certain amount of ambiguity that surrounds Yemen ranging from having a weapon as an important dress accessory to producing some attacks on western interest. There is hardly any assessment of the security situation that affects the Yemeni people and the role of the Government in this scene. Because of the various perceptions that are based on fear of the Middle Eastern hostility, Yemen has been officially unattractive for business or pleasure for quite a while.

The Government of Yemen has worked intensely in trying to eradicate the problem of targeting westerners from its roots. This has led to a considerable amount of security enhancements. And although the Government has provided all the necessary precautions for the protection of foreigners' interests, the perception of a poorly secured Yemen prevails among the various missions residing in Yemen, quoting incidents that goes back to 10 years ago or more.

Yemen is now being described by International Agencies as a fragile state. According to the World Bank, a fragile state is one that is burdened by conflict, weak governance and political turmoil. This term is increasingly used by the international donor community. However, it is important to note that the definitions of a fragile state vary drastically from one organisation to the other. For example, the UK Department for International Development has defined fragile states as “those countries where the government cannot or will not deliver core functions to the majority of its people, including the poor'. While the concept is sound, it simply doesn't add anything new, the term can almost reach out to all developing countries because of problems of capacity or political will. The term is also inclusive of all the unique problems and different social and political causes the states have, it does not recognise that while the states may have a fragile formal state system; it may possess other informal governance systems that the donors do not necessarily deal with.

Having Yemen crowned as a fragile state fortifies the image of a Yemen linked with conflict and violence rather than a country that has stabilised and developed rapidly. It overlooks the efforts that have been invested in this country by both the Government and International Agencies. It also does not explain how development aid will be different or in what frame should it move to allocate the best resources for these countries. Furthermore, the security paranoia that the western missions have in Yemen has further linked conflict with fragility and confused the development aid agenda. In most fragile states, donors do not have the experience or the expertise to deal with the political and social systems of these states that can make their intervention any different from what it is now.

It is important to understand that concepts around development are constantly changing to adapt to International requirements rather than local circumstances. There is no constant method that can be the ultimate solution in providing the peace and prosperity that the people aspire for. Better aid allocations do not come by adding a new term or developing a certain jargon that we commit ourselves to, it comes from increasing and expanding work with the people who demand the pro-poor change. It needs the same serious commitment of donors to work as partners in development rather than advisors for development.