“We should work together to stop the deteriorating conditions in Yemen.” [Archives:1999/06/Focus]

February 8 1999

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

Shaker Al-Ashwal,
Vice President of the Yemeni American League
Unfolding Troubles:
In the past several weeks, Yemen has been under the microscope of the world. The world has been analyzing the events that have unfolded, and the findings are disturbing . Kidnapping has continued to be a major problem and will prove to be a future deterrent for prospective tourists. The situation is chaotic.
What’s happening in Yemen? We were supposed to be moving ahead. Why do we seem to be moving backward?
Yemen has made some progress, to be sure. But we are still far behind, and one would think that government officials and planners would be working overtime trying to make up for lost time. The latest announcement by the Central Bank of Yemen indicating that Yemen was able to pay all of its scheduled debts this year was promising, but the general picture of the country is still very troubling. The decline in oil prices has made things more difficult, and will undoubtedly result in increasing Yemen’s deficit and economic troubles.
Where Is Yemen Going?
In the not so distant past, news headlines on Yemen were full of optimism and promise. Yemen’s unification brought to life a sense of optimism. That is now dying because of poverty, instability and lack of vision. The optimists are losing ground, and are being called dreamers in face of what is happening in Yemen.
What is happening in Yemen?
The economy of Yemen is in trouble. Yemen on paper has claimed to encourage foreign investment, but in reality has not taken important steps to restructure government bureaucracy, and eliminate corruption. Foreign investors and even Yemeni immigrants who go to Yemen to invest are often discouraged by the wheeling and dealing that is prevalent in the corridors and offices of the government offices involved.
The economic reforms, whose burden fell primarily on the heads of the common people of Yemen, have failed to improve the conditions of the country. Widespread waste in government continues.
Health & Education System
The health and education systems are in continuous decline, and are constantly deteriorating. The situation has been very troubling, and recent health statistics were alarming. Many Yemenis are suffering and dying due to lack of access to proper health care. Government hospitals lack resources and we do not need to present evidence of that here. Private hospitals have emerged around the country without proper supervision further endangering the lives of helpless Yemenis.
The quality of public school education has declined, forcing many parents to send their kids to private schools. Like private hospitals, these private schools and institutes often lack proper supervision and accreditation.
Yemenis have grown to embrace candles, and have planned their lives around the hours of daylight, thanks to the rising costs of electricty and the resultant electric bills.
The items I have listed above represent some of the major issues that reflect a very troubling trend. They indicate that things have not improved, but have in many cases worsened.
We all understand that our country faces many challenges, and I personally do not envy those in power. Their responsibility is overwhelming. However, government officials should not sit by and accept the degradation of our conditions, especially when people are suffering under harsh economic conditions.
The government has implemented difficult reforms, but where is the light at the end of the tunnel? What happens next? Is the sacrifice of our people paying off, or is it fruitless because widespread government corruption stands in the way of benefits to the people? Why are the skinny Yemenis forced to go on an IMF diet, while the fat belly-officials go on unquestioned?
My questions will go unanswered like the many others which our people ask. Our people have lived with hunger in the past because they had hope. But today, hope is on its deathbed.
What will keep them going? What is the incentive for more sacrifices? What kind of country are we creating? What are the priorities of the government? Our democracy has been weakened, and our freedoms have been compromised. Yemen, which had a chance to become one of the most democratic countries in the region, is now moving backwards and fast. It has to return to previous conditions.
Yemenis are proud people, and our freedom has been invaluable. We have been losing freedoms instead of gaining them. Newspapers have been forced to toe the line or risk being silenced. That is why they are no longer outspoken about issues. Those which continue to raise issues of concern to the people are often threatened or labeled as a way of defaming them.
Parliament…What Parliament?
Not only are Yemenis losing their most valuable right – freedom of expression, but are also losing an important element in our “democracy”; namely, the separation of powers.
The role of parliament has been compromised. Parliament lost its independence, and is steadily being weakened and is converted into an organ that simply follows orders.
The judicial branch of government is yet to be reformed. The latest trial, which is monitored by the world, reflects some of the deficiencies and failures of the system to even implement and follow constitutional orders.
I personally believe in gradual change, and so I do not expect government officials to perform miracles. The conditions of our country will not change overnight. No one with his or her right mind will expect that to happen. Many of us know the proverbial expression, “They did not build Sanaa in a day.” That is well understood, but what is most disturbing and troubling is the fact that we are not going forward. People do not mind a slow pace, but they do mind going backwards.
Today, we see strong indications of negative changes. The deterioration of conditions in many areas suggests that we are regressing, instead of going forward. The promise of positive change has not materialized.
There is little, if any, evidence to show long term planning in our government’s actions and decisions. As a matter of fact, that phrase seems to be absent from the dictionaries of the Yemeni officials.
I seize this opportunity to appeal to the leadership of the country, and to the president in particular. They should all hasten to implement changes and reforms that are badly needed by a country that has suffered for so long.
The last several weeks should have told everyone that Yemen needs to work harder to improve its internal structure, and to become a country where the rule of law dominates.
As a Yemeni living abroad, it has been distressing to learn that Yemen is now seen as a lawless land. Damaging our international image will only lead to isolation as no visitors or investors will go to Yemen. We have to fight to make Yemen a good world citizen.