Retarded Development: What is Wrong? [Archives:1999/30/Focus]

July 26 1999

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
One of the major issues confronting the Republic of Yemen – government and people – is the problem of achieving sustained human and economic development that will lead to the improvement of living conditions for the people of the country on an equitable basis, and insure cultural enhancement that will ensure for the country a stable place in the modern world. From time to time, Common Sense will delve into the issues of development in Yemen, because it is a topic that will take much more than can be covered in one article. It is also an issue of paramount interest to everyone involved, from the government to Yemen’s sometimes helpless donors, who seem to be at a loss, in determining, what is wrong with the development process in the Republic of Yemen, and where are the root causes of the inability of realizing the desired objectives of the vast sums of money in aid, which Yemen has received over the years, and why are not the tangible results apparent yet, from all this money, which has been expended towards the development of Yemen.
Fifty years ago, Yemen was a “donor” country, enjoying surpluses in agricultural output, that enabled it to provide aid to the neighboring countries, who have yet to taste the prosperity of the oil boom, that was to eventually push Yemen back into the stream of poor, underdeveloped societies – the abyss of the Third World. At the time, the population of the country did not exceed five million , almost all of whom were engaged in traditional agricultural systems. Even “urban” areas were checkered with vast land areas cultivated with garden vegetables and fruit trees. In addition, most “urban” dwellers maintained their own flock of livestock – sheep, a cow, goats and chicken. While still lacking in most of the amenities of modern livelihood, it still goes without saying that it still achieved a high degree of self sustenance, a favorable ecological balance, with a mutual give-and-take relationship between the inhabitants and the environment. An interesting insight into this period of cordial relations with nature might be found in the small book, Yemen, on the Threshold, by Bethmann, issued in 1959.
After the ouster of the monarchy, in 1962 and the subsequent “Civil War”, where Yemen played the role of the battlefield, between “traditionalism” lead by the Saudi Arabians under the late King Faisal, and the “revolutionary” Pan-Arab nationalist movement lead by the late Gamal Abdul Nasser, of the United Arab Republic – Egypt, the cordial relationship with nature was never to see light again. Yemen’s closed ecological balanced factor – mix had become subjected to challenges of different manifestations, including regional developments, internal political instability, changing tastes and habits, erratic population movements and an increasingly declining rapport between the inhabitants and the environment.
It goes without saying that considerable strides have been made in “development”. But it is clear now that such development has not looked upon the sustainability of this mutual natural affinity between man and nature, as an important asset that should have been maintained. This was principally due to the fact that the development efforts in Yemen was characterized by the following:
1)A biased emphasis on quantitative achievements, contrasted with a total disregard for any qualitative considerations.
2)Lack of a comprehensive and integrated systematic and methodological approach towards development, with the absence of any standards for evaluation of the results achieved, and the impacts realized.
3)Poor planning, monitoring and follow-up thus leading to a generally ad-hoc, impulsive approach to developments, with little analysis and foresight of the ensuing results.
4)Decreasing involvement of targeted beneficiaries, contrasted by a notorious and humiliating trend towards a tight centralized framework, that clearly aims at fostering the interests of a very small clique, and maintain all the movement of resources and energies under the control thereof, with little consideration to national long term interests of the population at large.
5)An impotent statutory and judicial framework, which is unable to impose the will of law and order with a view to meting out justice and equal treatment of all under the law.
6)A total disregard for prioritization in its broader sense of serving Yemen’s real national interest and dealing with those issues of clear substance to the general population. Contrasting with this, there is a heavy emphasis on giving priority to political considerations – at all expense, and what ever the adverse outcome this could have on the overall development aspirations of the people.
7)An emphasis on short term results, usually in order to meet political ends. Along this line, acquired assets and infrastructure are left to undergo rapid deterioration, due to the absence of self – sustaining operations and maintenance systems to keep them fully in service.
These shortcomings in the development approach of the Republic of Yemen have eventually become constraints against any individual, community and regional initiatives towards development. Moreover they have often resulted in erratic situations arising, which have severely punctured some of the substantive achievements previously achieved under more favorable national economic conditions – a heavy price in service to minor narrow interests that have lead to the decay of very important social and ethical mores, which were once an important self regulating fabric of the society, with minimal signs of crime and social injustice.
In addition, as is the case in most developing countries, cultural enhancement of the population, was given a back seat – if any seat at all – in the development aspirations sought by the government. This eventually clamped down on creativity and innovation. In fact, all cultural activity became principally focused on misguiding the public away from self – expression of any form. Political, scientific, literary and artistic endeavors have become subjected to complex procedural arrangements and controls and any such activities are viewed as prelude to dissent and insurgency.
On the other hand, the public media is either a government monopoly, or is subject to very limited access to the public – and even then, this access is under extremely tight government scrutiny, with the sword of vengeance ready to fall at any time that any “unpatriotic” criticism is aimed at the government or its symbols of authority. This, in the end produces an unreasonable block to access to information of all sorts, and does not allow for badly needed public awareness on even the most important issues of public health, education and economic productivity – the issues that are of most serious concern to the people. Moreover, this clampdown on public awareness seems to contrast with the constitutional right guaranteeing public access to information and the public media, which the original legislators had in mind, as a form of public oversight of government. Moreover it deprives the public from the opportunities that free channels of communication can offer to disseminate their creative and innovative ideas that can be of significant help towards improving their economic welfare and that of others who can also share or improve upon such ideas, as well as deprive the public of meaningful cultural enhancement, which the government media and cultural institutions have failed to bring about, despite the large investment in assets that have yet to come up with any stimulating cultural output, which would justify such heavy investments, and help to put the country on the right track towards development, in all of its manifestations.