Why are we different? [Archives:2005/849/Opinion]

June 9 2005

If we look at all the states in the Arabian Peninsula, we find there is a great difference in the way we are and the way the rest of the countries are living and managing their affairs. The problem really is not confined to the scarcity of available resources, because of we look at nearby Oman and further up north Jordan, these states still managed to achieve measurable progress, not just materially, but also culturally and socially as well. Granted there are underlying difficulties, such as the size of the population and other factors that give Yemen its unique characteristics and provide for challenges that perhaps the other states are not confronted with. Having said that however, one is still inclined to believe that our approach to development has not been all together that stimulating and does not indicate a goal oriented planning approach. International factors have also not been helpful and perhaps regional forces may have presented drawbacks that prevented Yemen from maximizing many of the comparative advantages Yemen possessed and still possesses to launch the country on a sound course towards development. In retrospect, however, there is a lot more that can be said about our inability to harness the resources available to us and direct them towards enhancing the ability of the people to pursue greater strides in their own welfare and the overall development of the country.

The problem fundamentally rests on s severe reliance on a centralized approach towards managing the political, economic and social affairs of the country and the insistence on holding back any efforts towards loosening the reigns of centralized authority, even after the centralized government has decided to embark on a supposedly ambitious reform program, not to mention the adoption of democracy as an irreversible approach to governance.

However, it is not clear how much conceptual translation of all these wonderful cliches is truly intended to be felt and put in practice beyond their surface appearance in government reports or media channels. For sure, if we can get halfway into the institution of democratic government and empowerment to the relevant government and non-government institutions (local authority and civil society). Furthermore, the most effective approach towards development involves facilitating access to the available resources to the general population and the private sector. Such facilitation will go a long way towards enabling the maximum exploitation of these resources, spreading the benefits to be derived from them to a greater percentage of the population and making them more sustainable. More important enabling the general people to have easy access to such resources, ward off the chances for corruption that is highly encouraged by the overwhelming bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of such access.

This does not entail purely the issuance of laws that say that such access is now feasible, and then killing them with “executive procedures” that practically work to maintain an impregnable status quo, that ensures that our government not relinquish one bit of its stranglehold control on every facet of our lives.

It is a matter of getting government to understand that unless government itself becomes truly cultured in the approaches it is pursuing, all one can say is that it is going to be business as usual.

Our neighbors are not claiming any great strides in democratic achievement or political reform, but they nevertheless did allow for considerable public leeway to enable them to advance their own welfare. With our rhetoric and claims, we should have been better if all these claims could be taken for more than their weight in ink and air.