Yemen and the poverty in power [Archives:2003/669/Business & Economy]

September 18 2003

Irena Knehtl
For the Yemen Times
[email protected]

You from the Caravan, travel alone. But still with them Yemen exhibits virtually all the characteristics of an area that, in the classic paradigm of international intrigue, present it as a virtual prisoner of external players. Yemen is a young democracy surrounded by suspicious, and, at one time, hostile neighbors. During the Cold War period the power blocks were clearly marked with the two Yemens occupying a strategic position in the equation of Red Sea and Indian Ocean politics. Due to its location across from the Horn of Africa and at the entrance of the Red Sea, Yemen has long attracted attention from outside powers. This poses a major burden for the Yemeni people who seek to defend their sovereignty, security, and national independence. One of the few viable options for Yemen is to be a neutral arbiter in international affairs. This is the policy a weak country can use to create influence out of proportion to its actual military and economic strength. But there is need for a progressive social policy to compliment the vagaries of foreign policy options and help develop a solid economic base for the future.
For some time now Yemen has been engaged in the process of integration into the world economic system. What one should be cautious about is the nature of this integration, in which indigenous principles of self-reliance, independence and self-determination can be undermined. It is important to solve problems within the Yemeni cultural context rather trying to become something Yemen is not and cannot be. In order to transform the Yemeni economy there must be an honest and viable Yemeni market that can compete in the expanding Indian Ocean, Red Sea and other commercial systems. This then is a critical time in Yemen's history to work out the methodology for a new kind of economy that takes into account both what is specific to Yemen and the kind of problems facing Yemen in the international area. At the beginning a certain amount of protectionism is in order or Yemen will be over-run and the people will find little benefit.

Yemen Economic Base for the Future:
The basis for the new Yemen is one of intensive development in many areas. Agriculture and fisheries must not only feed the population but should create employment on a large scale. There must be practical way of developing local agricultural resources, certainly not by wasting water in uncontrolled irrigation. Yemen can also base its manufacturing and agro-manufacturing industries on its own resources. Live animals, hides and skins need to be upgraded. Specialized agriculture would be of special interest including production of fruits and vegetables, oil seeds, spices, garden seeds, and flowers that could be attractive to innovative investors. Conditions also favor specialized livestock and poultry operations and fish farming. Food processing for domestic use and export also has enormous potential for agriculture. The environment must be sustained, especially the dwindling tree cover, and over-exploited water resources. For example the Yemeni Red Sea and Gulf of Aden contain some of world's most important coastal and marine environments and resources. The search for more oil, gas and other mineral resources need to continue. But appropriate technologies using solar and wind should be explored in full. The exploration of the sea- bed is only beginning for minerals and other resources, even as the extent of territorial waters and the eastern border need to be defined.
One of the important factors for the future economic growth is the Aden free trade and manufacturing zone, as well as potential revenues from other ports. Yemeni ports are ideally positioned for further growth. And with a country as beautiful and historical as Yemen, there is indeed a future for tourism. But there is need for expansion of tourist services and also specialized tourism.
So how can this new economy work for Yemen and for the broader region?
In order to do great things, it is not necessary to be above man, it is rather necessary to work alongside one fellow man to produce greater satisfaction and prosperity. The point is to choose those means that are already suited to their own resources and own culture, but the overall objective should be to provide better opportunities for social development to those most in need. When the economy can satisfy these fundamental needs of food, housing, clothing, health, education and security, then it is possible to freely engage in rethinking of economy. The best kind of economy for Yemen is self-reliant, collective development that will mobilize the energies of people involved in the creation of their own future, and will be aimed at satisfying the basic needs of a society united by a common feeling of solidarity.
It is necessary to go beyond the economy of products and profits to one of moral compassion and socially responsible welfare.
Southern Arabia, especially Yemen, is once again placed in the position of a go-between or bridge, but in far different way than in the past. Medieval ships had little choice but to stop off in Aden, but the modern investor or manufacturer is far more mobile and will only stay if the conditions are favorable. It is obvious that much of Yemens future economic growth is pinned on the developing free and manufacturing zone of Aden. It will be important for the Aden zone to provide cheap and efficient labor, reliable container transport, transshipment facilities and services, state-of-the-art communication, and become a financial and investment haven not only for Yemen but for the Indian Ocean and Red Sea region as a whole.
Yet nothing can be achieved without revolution at the level of the individual, the emergence of a new political will based on the duty and responsibility for freedom.
This kind of revolution is a sort of poverty in power, working with hands and minds for social progress.

* Irena Knehtl is an economist and writer. Contribution was presented for the Middle East Forum on economic policy options at Curtain University for Technology, Perth, Australia.