THE YOUTH OF YEMEN: Frustrated Present and Uncertain Future! [Archives:1999/02/Focus]

January 11 1999

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue! 

By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Taiz Office Editor,
Yemen Times
Nobody can deny the glaring fact that the youth are the power-house of any nation. If the are strong, educated and well-oriented, their nations become stronger prosper. They can look at the future with hope and glory. Tomorrow will bring better times for all.
All nations pin their hope on the younger generations, their energy and other potential. It is by proper exploitation of this energy and potential that nations grow.
But what if a society is oblivious to its youth? What if a system is not working to bring its young population to their full potential? What if a nation does not empower its next generation with knowledge and correct orientation in order to build a better tomorrow?
To drive the point home, what if our youths are at an impasse and on the horns of a dilemma. That is, they are facing the ordeals of the overwhelming question of being and becoming.
Our youngsters are pessimistic about the future. They see a dark present and an even darker tomorrow. Their approach to life is full of frustration. They feel lost and insecure. They are frightened of what is to come. This is the impression I got from discussing local and national issues with young people in Taiz.
Gamal Street: Good Shelter
A quick look at the streets of Taiz, particularly Gamal Street, will tell lots of books about the plight of young males and females of Taiz. The streets have become an important past-time for huge crowds of young boys and girls aimlessly drifting back and forth. They walk up and down the streets – talking loudly, flirting, teasing and haggling.
I was shocked at the huge number of young men and women doing nothing by pacing the streets – day in and day out. If you go out there and sit at one corner and simply observe, as I did for a few days, you will see the same people doing the same things over and over. How depressing!
This phenomenon is not limited to Taiz alone. The same thing happens in all our cities – Sanaa, Aden, Hodeidah, Ibb, Mukalla, etc.
I am not here to put blames, especially not on the youths only. I simply want to discuss a disturbing phenomenon and analyze what can be done about it.
The message I carry is that a lot of our young people feel lost and have nothing meaningful to keep them busy. Basically, this is an opportunity lost for the nation as we cannot benefit from the potent energy and resource that these young people represent. But more ominously, if we cannot harness this energy for good use, it could be exploited in a bad way leading to enormous difficulties for the future of this country.
Where to Go?
Some people have spent many years going to school, even at university level – either inside or outside the country. Now they have graduated, but find that there are no job opportunities available for them. They feel frustrated. They have studied hard and graduated in the hope of finding jobs. They can contribute to the welfare and progress of their country. They have the ability to be productive.
But, they are not given the chance. They face a bitter reality.
So, ‘where to go and what to do?’ is a difficult and disconcerting question these people repeat. I talked to some of them. Some actually continue to struggle very hard and have not lost heart. They are willing to accept any job with any salary even if it doesn’t rise up to their qualifications.
Professor Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf was the other day repeating a story told to him by Mr. Abdul-Wassa Hayel Saeed. Abdul-Wassa said:
“As I come out of our office building in Sanaa I usually meet a lot of beggars or simply people who ask for help. For a few days, I observed there were three young boys who were standing on the side. I could see the appeals in their eyes, but they were too shy to speak.
“On the third day, I asked the guard to let them in, and I received them in my office. ‘What can I do for you?’ I asked. They said we are not beggars. We graduated from high school two years ago. We have no money to continue education, and we have been looking hard for work. ‘Can you help us?’
“I summoned our administrative manager and asked him to look for jobs for them. But he shocked me. He said that the Hayel Saeed Group of Companies can immediately dispose of at least a third of its workforce and productivity will not be affected. We cannot employ more people, and we are keeping the ones we have only because we don’t want to aggravate an already bad unemployment situation.
“At this moment, the young men said we do not want clerical jobs. We will do anything. We will even serve as office boys.
“I was just sitting there with grief in my heart. I told them to come back after the Eid Al-Fitr holidays.”
That story told by Abdul-Wassa Hayel summarizes the situation.
Frustration Dominates
Having seen their seniors jobless and wholly frustrated, schoolboys have lost interest in studying. They are not interested, because they do not see the kind of education they get as a tool for a better future. Whenever urged to read and work hard, they refuse by shrugging their shoulder. “Of what use is studying” is a quick and casual answer one gets from students these days.
They argue that the way to wealth and prosperity in Yemen today is not through knowledge and hard work, but by linking up to influential power centers either through hypocritical political affiliation, kissing up to the regime and the rulers, or by simple forgeries or outright stealing and robbing.
Having witnessed the fate of their seniors who have gone through the system, many young people have concluded that going through the system leads to a dead end. Many would argue that people who studied hard are now jobless. They further argue that people who work hard are penniless. Their conclusion is simple: the system does not work.
At the same time, they point to a lot of ignorant and lazy people who have become rich and influential. They point to the so-called sheikhs who receive fat budgetary allocations from the state. They point to the hypocrites who receive generous hand-outs from the rulers of this country because they kiss-up to them or send them ‘reports’ about what is going on.
In short, the well-being of a person in Yemen today has little to do with how much informed you are or how hard you work. The regime does not promote or even value the qualities of hard work and knowledge. That is because unqualified, undeserving and lazy people are holding high ranking positions in the state. Not only are they unable to deliver, but they also work to intentionally marginalize qualified people.
Therefore nowadays, many of our young people view education as a secondary concern. They see the value of hard work as out-moded and irrelevant.
But some of our young folks have not able to live with this conclusion. They either go nuts or commit suicide. The numerous daily cases of such incidents are good evidence. More to the point, if you do like me and sit at one of the street corners, you will see evidence of what I am saying. A large number of young people prowling the streets of our cities aimlessly.
Government & Youth
The Government of Yemen has announced 1999 to be the ‘Year of the Youth’. But nobody should take that seriously.
The two ministries most relevant to the youth are managed by Sanaa University professors who have PhDs. We cannot blame the president or prime minister for not choosing highly qualified people. These are as qualified as they can get.
The issue is not academic qualifications. It is personal character and management abilites. Those ministers, in spite of their best efforts and good intentions, have not been able to make any real contribution or change.
The youth of Yemen deserve a higher priority in the efforts of the state. It is through them and by them that the future will be built. The unemployment rate in Yemen is estimated at a staggering 38%. While that is already a terrible waste of manpower, it is a pity that an increasing number of the jobless are among the educated people of Yemen. We cannot afford that our best are unable to work.
The economic and administrative reforms are supposed to help raise the level of efficiency. This is one field in which it can make a real imprint.