Yemen Pays a Price of a Difficult Neighborhood! [Archives:1998/24/Viewpoint]

June 15 1998

There we go again! More refugees are beginning to land on Yemeni soil, as the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict escalates. The unfortunate developments between our two neighbors in the Horn of Africa are affecting us negatively, again. That proves we have a stake in a peaceful and early solution to this war, that could easily get out of hand.
In the past, Yemen had paid a heavy price because of problems in the region. We have had Eritrean refugees and guests since the beginning of their war of independence, over 30 years ago. Then we received Ethiopian refugees and guests when that country witnessed a long and painful civil war. Then we received lots of Sudanese as that country underwent internal upheavals. Of course, we received tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia as that country disintegrated. Many of the people who had come as refugees have returned. But quite a few have stayed on.
Today, the country risks receiving another wave of refugees, unless the rapidly deteriorating situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia is brought under control. Unfortunately, Yemen is a poor country, and it cannot afford to provide for the needs of the refugees. The contribution of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been vital, but not enough.
Both Eritrea and Ethiopia are also poor and badly underdeveloped countries. It is really sad that whatever meager resources exist are now channelled for the war machines in both countries. Territorial claims must be settled through negotiations and dialogue. The two countries, especially Eritrea, which now has territorial disputes with all of its neighbors, must learn that violence and military confrontations do not bring about lasting solutions.
But Yemen also suffers from another problem in this neighborhood. Here also, we have been paying high prices. As a democratizing nation – which accepts such values as political pluralism, press freedom, a larger participation of the general population in public life, regular elections, etc. – we are constantly on the receiving end because many of our neighbors have yet to accept these same values. Thus, whenever our efforts in applying these values falters or does not succeed fully, some of our neighbors use the occasion to throw water on our democratization process. I personally remember a senior member of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia urging Yemeni officials not to hold any more elections.
Of course, one does not choose his/her neighbors. Yemen has just to make the best of the situation.
But the world community has a duty to help Yemen withstand these difficulties. In addition, it could play a constructive role to make ours a better neighborhood. This is important for two reasons: (a) for regional stability and peace; and (b) Yemen’s experience, if successful, will serve as a model for other nations, even beyond this region.
In the meanwhile, let us pray that the leaders of this region do not push us into more violent upheavals. Amen!
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher