With Us Its Put Your Foot in Your Mouth [Archives:2001/13/Focus]

March 26 2001

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
While most of the world is worrying whether to have steak or lamb chops for dinner, or make do with chicken until the Foot and Mouth disease is overcome, in Yemen, the people have to go to sleep wondering if they are going to get a chance to eat anything at all the next day for that matter. Anyone who has become tied to that menace of a shrub that has plagued Yemen, the qat tree, has become accustomed to spending the night trying to figure out just where the intermittent shots being fired here and there are coming from. A friend recently remarked that he now finds it hard to sleep if he has not heard any gunshots being fired over the night at least once. While Yemen may be said to be out of any war situation at present, the rat-tat-tat of gunfire has become such a common phenomenon over the silence of the night, that one wonders if indeed we are in peaceful times, or are undergoing several little wars here and there for God only knows what reason.
Never before has Yemen been in such a state of restlessness and overall depression of the mind. No one seems to be looking froward to anything anymore as all hopes of a turn for the better are shoved aside, not only by an incompetent ?Government, that seems to be thousands of kilometers away from the mood of the people that it seems to find it unnecessary to deal with the obvious issues at hand, such as lawlessness, social fatigue and large scale deprivation, as though the Government is living in Switzerland and the rest of the population are living in the remotest part of the Amazon jungles.
It is hard to explain why that at dawn in the capital city of Yemen, the land of wisdom and common sense, beside the call of the dawn prayers the deep silence of the last hour of the night has to be broken by the thundering roar of a Rifle Propelled Shell hitting at of all places the Governorate office of Sana’a, in Rawdha – where the Imam once lived with only a couple of sentries guarding the entranceway. It was a terrible roar that immediately made one jump to see if the kids were not harmed by any of the flying debris that resulted from the shell, or not frightened by the horror of finding your neighborhood under the mercy of gunfire. That was last week, after the senseless and inexplicable killings that accompanied the local council elections have subsided and the war of words took over as each side among the “strategic partnership” blamed the other for what some estimates report that over 40 people as being killed.
What is really going on in this country? Nobody seems to really have an answer to all the nonsense that seems to have overtaken the country, where the only sounds that could explain what is going is the sound of automatic rifle fire and now RPG? What is next? Will it be mortars and tanks? We really need to know what is going on in this country, as all major issues seemed to have no conclusive finale that puts the mind at ease. So many people getting killed and nobody knows by whom and for what? That is really no cause for self-acclaim or national pride.
Oh sure, the Government officials are all over the country laying down foundation stones and inaugurating projects, even after the elections, just so they can make more money than they already have and just so they can find justifications for more budget appropriations for their entities, so they can gobble up more money, but it is time that these guys start to become accountable for what they have done and have not done. We really want to know why anyone would get so mad as to have to run up to the governorate Center and hit it with an RPG shell? We want to know why a Sudanese expatriate staff member could find it so easy to turn the University of Sana’a Morgue into a human slaughterhouse and not one official is even questioned about it, from the university to the security apparatus, to the Foreign Ministry, since the man had ties to Sudanese officials at the highest level? We want to know why senior Government officials must acquire the latest Land Cruiser models for their children, while the overwhelming majority of the parents of the country have no hope of getting fresh milk for their children? No, we are not in Switzerland and we are far from having any funds in any Swiss bank, as many officials might have. For the majority of the population it seems to be a world for the survival of the fittest, as gunfire has taken the place of courtrooms to solve the most minute of disputes. An example: a farmer decided to divide his land among his children so that they should not have any trouble after he passes away. But the kids started to have differences over waterways or some minor triviality associated with the land. Rather than bring the matter to the father, who is still alive, or to litigation, one of the brothers decided to settle the dispute by reverting to the firepower he had. He shot his brother in the head. Miraculously, the brother survived although the bullet entered the head from one side and came out the other! The brother felt sorry later for what he did. But that still does not relieve the people holding the helms of authority in the land, from being questioned as to why people take the law in their own hands rather than revert to the appropriate Government organs for relief from such problems. The people have lost all faith in Government and its ability to serve the public interest in anyway. So many cases can one cite that show that we are really in an unhealthy state that defies logical explanation. No, my friends we are not in Switzerland, for the Swiss people would rise in outrage at having anyone coming to fire an RPG in the heart of a major population center, where so many children are looking for a quiet night’s sleep. The scary part about all of this is that there does not seem to be any hopeful signs for a turn for the better. The probability is that there are harder times ahead and more mystery to bog the mind – not to mention more rifle shots and explosions to break the silence of the night.