Where is the unity we want? [Archives:2007/1053/Opinion]

May 21 2007

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
It is sometimes hard to believe that Yemen has become and still remains united, despite all the difficulties the country is facing. There were a lot of happy faces in the early days of the last decade of the Twentieth Century, when the leaders of the two former sovereign states of North and South Yemen (officially called the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) decided to bond the two countries together and realize what was once the farthest thing from reality that one could dream of. This was not so much because the people of both parts of the country did not want unity, but rather because most people in Yemen, as is the case in most of the Arab countries, felt that their leaders then would never give up their tight hold on the helms of authority and the stranglehold they have on their respective citizens for the sake of unity or for any sake for that matter. In this respect one would have to retract and give credit to the man who truly made it happen and had it not been for the former Vice President of the Republic of Yemen, Ali Salem Al-Beidh agreeing to let President Ali Abdullah Saleh become the first President of the newly united Yemen, unity would have still remained an unthinkable dream. Furthermore, credit is also given to the latter for insisting that unity should be accompanied by a change to a democratic form of government and that was what really made the Yemeni people euphoric at the time, because then it was assumed that Yemen was truly embarking on a new future of peace and prosperity. After all, with democracy comes a peaceful transfer of authority and more important, the participation of the people of Yemen in decision making at all levels of government means that the fight against corruption and waste of public resources was going to be easy with the citizens making sure that they keep their eyes on public officials, who might forget to keep their pockets and bank accounts free of public funds obtained illicitly. Of course, those were the hopes then as the flag of the Republic of Yemen was hoisted in Aden for the first time and the two Allis (Ali Abdullah Saleh and Ali Salem Al-Beedh launched the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.

What happened? Well, Thanks to the Al-Mighty, we still have only one Yemen, although that is about the only thing left in good standing from the unification agreement of November 30, 1989 (effected on May 22, 1990). The democracy and the peace and prosperity simply found it hard to settle down in the new republic and it seemed that the people of Yemen were simply again enmeshed in a lot of wishful thinking to the point that they had actually forgiven their leaders for all the difficulties they have brought them as leaders of two separate sovereign states and all the public resources that they gulped over the last three decades when the Revolutions of September 1962 and October 1963 were then supposed to herald the country into a promising future that never materialized.

In 1994, we had an unnecessary war, which evolved because it was clear that there were many in the ruling establishment that could not find favor with relinquishing the stranglehold they had on their people, even if it means dividing the country again. But thanks to God again the latter did not occur. But the people of Yemen are still far from realizing any tangible improvement in their lives and for all practical purposes their lot remains far from seeing any improvement. The democracy is still there, but for all practical purposes, we might as well surrender to the fact that it is not the democracy that insures that the Yemeni people have indeed found the regime that will insure a peaceful transe3r of authority, transparency in the management of public affairs and public resources and more important accountability of all public officials, that will lead to the clean up of the administrative apparatus of the government and to the establishment of a deterrent that will drastically reduce the abominable chronic theft of public funds, property and resources, that is unable to find any end in sight in the foreseeable future. That is the cancer that has ailed the country, whether as a divided nation or under unification and that is what has left the fruits of unity unfelt by most people in Yemen.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.