We need security [Archives:2002/46/Focus]

November 11 2002

By Hassan Al-Haifi
As much as Yemen was backward and deprived of many of the amenities of life, many of us cannot fail to forget that up to the 1980s and even the early 1990s, for all intents and purposes Yemen was perhaps one of the most secure countries in the world. There was hardly any news to be heard about such things as robberies, killings and other violent social disturbances, most of which would have raised great outcries among the population. One can even recall that in the prosperous 1970s, people were seen riding or walking around with sacks of money behind their backs (and the Riyal then was worth 22 _ Cents) without armed escort, let alone without even bearing arms. But now, the stories of pickpockets and even armed robberies are readily exchanged between people as if they have become the norm of society.
On the other hand, intertribal disturbances, disputes over land and many other violent disruptions of the peace have become prevalent, not only in the rural countryside, but even in the hearts of the cities. One wonders why so much money is paid to tribal chiefs by the Government, while they have failed to bring calm to their respective domains and have found comfort in building luxurious palaces in the capital city, while they insist that without them there can be no peace in the country. Most people are beginning to wonder if there is an obvious waste of public funds, if these Sheiks cannot insure the pacification of their domains.
Disturbing atmosphere
At the worst situation, one would hope that these tribal chiefs could keep tribal feuds out of the cities, since traditionally cities are considered as peaceful enclaves and tribal conflicts should never be allowed to enter into the cities, especially the City of Sana’a. But, these days, especially in the periphery surrounding the city, one has become accustomed to hearing the sound of rattling Kalashnikovs and even heavier military arsenal breaking the peace of the night. It is hard to imagine any environment conducive to progress and economic growth in such a disturbing atmosphere.
As for disputes over land, very seldom does one ever hear of such disputes ever taking on violent manifestations, in most of the countries of the world. Even if there are disputes over property rights, in these places, they are often easily dealt with by civil litigation and clearly defined mechanisms for assessing legitimate ownership. In Yemen, however, despite the existence of land disputes for decades now, especially with the uncontrolled urbanization that has plagued the country, we have failed to come out with an effective property registration system, which will put the government behind the legitimate owners and send any unlawful claimants back where they originated. If property rights cannot be secured well, then it is difficult to envision any investors, whether they are Yemenis or foreigners willing to risk their capital in projects that are to constructed on land subject to litigation, let alone having to face armed takeovers by claimants, who probably have never seen the land, let alone owned it.
Shocks to Yemen
The observer is quick to understand that Yemen has witnessed several traumatic shocks that have erupted, especially over the last decade. However, one cannot fail to note that many of these shocks are not just due to external circumstances, but go back to the absence of clear policy guidelines on dealing with the most minor of issues, most of which have little or no connection with such external circumstances. Furthermore, one should bear in mind that we cannot separate ourselves from events in the world, especially since the Yemeni people have opted to abandon their former tight isolation and join the international community of nations.
There is no reason why it should be difficult for Yemen to find the peaceful atmosphere that will promote the adherence to law and order and the respect for the rights of citizens to sleep at night without having to be aroused by the loud outbursts of gunfire here and there. Only if the government concentrates on resolving the security situation in the country will it be able to provide the right setting for the ample promise that the future can hold for the country. Given the many encouraging economic, social and cultural factors that lend weight to this promise, one would expect that the Government would address the issue of security and adherence to law and order by all the elements of the society as the first priority of sound government. Otherwise its quest to find the conducive setting for encouraging economic growth and attracting investments both from our own private sector and from eager investors from overseas will be futile. After all, the Yemeni people are at least entitled to a sound sleep, if nothing more.