Sana’a needs urgent assistance to overcome its economic problems. Despite international donors failing to deliver on previous promises, there is some hope for the future.
April 12, 2010 4:34 by Clare Dunkley
In November 2006, international donors descended on London for a conference on assistance to Yemen, the Middle East’s – and one of the world’s – poorest countries. They pledged a total of $4.7 billion to support a raft of development projects under the 2007-10 Public Investment Program and 2006-2010 Socio-Economic Development Plan for Poverty Reduction, presented to the attendees by President Ali Abdullah Saleh himself.
Three years on, and Sana’a has little to show for that sudden outpouring of generosity: A fraction of the aid has materialized and a fraction of the projects implemented, largely because of the notoriously corrupt and inefficient governing bureaucracy, to which donors have been reluctant to disburse funds. As a result, Yemen’s economy has continued its downward slide, as oil production wanes, population growth accelerates, and foreign and private investment stagnates.
For Saleh and the country’s impoverished 23 million-strong population, therefore, the revelation that the young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly attempted to blow up an American Northwest Airlines plane on December 25, was probably radicalized during time spent in Yemen came as a clear and openly leveraged blessing in disguise.
The link between political instability within Yemen and the wider global terrorist threat was made even stronger by a claim of responsibility from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – the regional “branch” believed to have moved its base from Saudi Arabia to the kingdom’s more lawless neighbor. It purported to have trained and equipped Abdulmutallab for the attack, in retaliation for U.S.-backed action by Sana’a against militants operating from Yemeni soil.
At the same time, Saleh’s longstanding internal fight against the Al-Houthi tribal rebels in the north – who are demanding greater regional autonomy and are implacably hostile to the president personally for past offences – flared up and spilled across the border into Saudi Arabia, which responded militarily.
And so, in the space of a couple of months, Yemen’s longstanding internal troubles became an urgent regional and global concern. After three years during which the country was largely off the global radar, a high-level international conference was convened in London on January 27, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband and their G.C.C. and wider Middle Eastern counterparts. During the meeting, it was agreed that Gulf leaders would reconvene in Riyadh on February 27-28 to consider the blocks to delivery of previous aid pledges and the country’s 2011-2015 development needs, while a “Friends of Yemen” group was created; its first formal meeting was held late last month.