Moving beyond promises in Yemen’s transition
1 October 2012
Greater inclusion of young people in decision-making and tangible improvements in daily life are needed in Yemen to ensure that the current transition leads to sustained peace and security. This is the conclusion of a new report by Saferworld – Moving beyond promises – whichhighlights the crisis of authority and continuing challenges for Yemen’s political transition.
The research, which is built on discussions with young Yemenis between March and August 2012, sets out four key recommendations to promote greater youth participation: reconstituting authority and addressing negative perceptions; making progress on youth priorities; tackling obstacles to youth participation; and building on opportunities for future engagement.
Since the election of President Hadi as a consensus candidate in February 2012, Yemen has embarked on a difficult transition process with an ambitious timeline. In two years, the transitional government is expected to restructure the military, hold an inclusive National Dialogue Conference, reform the constitution and carry out free and fair elections.
“What do I want from the transition? I want security. I want electricity. I want health. I want good roads. I want no army in the streets. I want a job. That’s what I want, but I don’t know where to start.” Young man, Sana’a.
The research highlights that young Yeminis are highly critical of the transition’s progress to date. They see a general crisis of national authority and the need for tangible improvements in their day-to-day lives such as electricity, jobs, infrastructure and basic services. While agreeing on the success of the UN mission, young people single out the United States, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as states whose roles have been characterised by self-interested interference that has done more harm than good. Yemen’s youth are united in wanting both national and international authorities to move beyond promises and be more inclusive and responsive to the needs of Yemen’s population.
In particular, young people identified three key priorities for the upcoming National Dialogue process: restructuring the military, addressing the ‘Southern Issue’, and implementing an extensive and legitimate process of transitional justice. Tackling these, in addition to wider institutional reform and changes to the constitution, is needed to ensure that the transition leads to sustained peace and security.
“If the coming National Dialogue doesn’t include women and youth, it won’t be a national dialogue.” Young woman, Ta’iz
The research also concludes that young activists have positioned themselves as ‘guardians’ of the revolution, and as advocates for the national good against what they perceive as the narrow self-interest of the political elite. Because of this, young women and men remain one of the key repositories of legitimacy within the newly reconfigured Yemeni political system, and potentially strong consensus-builders. However, Saferworld’s research highlights three barriers to genuine youth participation:
- the top-down framework of the GCC-led power transfer dealand its exclusion of young women and men
- the existence of more established political forces seeking to gain from a divided and weak youth voice
- the absence of accepted leadership within the youth movement and growing divisions among politically active youth – arising from limited financial and technical capacity among young people.
Despite this, young people identify a number of opportunities for making a lasting impact on Yemen’s social and political culture. These opportunities include developing a strong and independent National Youth Conference that can represent and unite youth from all parts of the country, and raising awareness of civic rights and responsibilities at the local level. However, street politics, with its focus on mass pressure and bottom-up change, remains the way many young women and men feel they can best make their voices heard in the short-term.