Yemenis Excel Abroad. WHY? [Archives:1999/52/Viewpoint]

December 28 1999

Time and again, we hear and read stories of Yemenis who stand out. They command excellence and prove themselves in more than one field. Unfortunately, in all cases, that happens only once they leave their country and emigrate. It is associated with their life abroad. 
In this issue of Yemen Times, we offer examples of two Yemenis who were able to make it to levels of excellence. Our main front page story is about Isra Girgra, an Adeni girl who has made it to stardom in the world of female boxing. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The page-three interview of this issue is with Professor Al-Attas, a distinguished professor at Singapore National University. He is in the ivy league. 
There are many more high achievers in the Yemeni diaspora. Why is it that here in Yemen we do not have such achievers? Is it because they do not exist? Or is it because the system does not allow them to come out? 
Let me from the outset say that I realize that there are better facilities abroad allowing for people in general to be their best. But there are also local reasons here in Yemen. One of the reasons is a mix of bad habits entrenched in our socio-culture. This is conveniently married to political expediency. One of the top bad habits is our constant bad-mouthing of people, especially during qat chews. 
Rumors are an important part of our psyche. This problem is exacerbated by politicians who employ rumor-mongers to their own ends. In fact, there is a sustained and organized rumor-distribution apparatus that is an integral part of the political system. It is not an accident that many rumor-mongers, including some journalists and opinion-makers, are on the payroll of our top politicians. 
One would ask, why do top politicians need rumor mongers. The answer is simple, to delay or even block the inevitable transfer of authority within the transformation of our society. High achievers are potential leaders, and they should replace the current circles of influence. By discrediting achievers, the present centers of power prolong their hold over things. That explains why the old vanguards who have been running the country since the 1960s are still in charge. They work diligently to block the rise of any new achievers because they see them as rivals and potential replacements. 
As a result of this ‘power-struggle’, the nation is deprived of the potential contribution of some of its best sons and daughters. This also explains why frustrated would-be achievers end up leaving the country in order to settle down in an environment that is more conducive to their aspirations. 
There is another reason. A person’s place in our society does not really depend on his/her knowledge or work. It depends on such things as tribo-political connections, relations with power centers, etc. Therefore, ambitious young men and women are not driven to learn and work. They are driven to forge relations with people of influence. In short, our young men and women spend most of their time, energy, talent and resources kissing up to the authorities rather than doing actual work. This is the shortest way to satisfy their aspirations.