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Strategies to Rebuild Yemen After Civil War

Rebuilding yemen

Strides to recover a nation in crisis after civil war

Table of Contents

  1. Executive summary
  2. Policy recommendations
  3. Introduction
  4. How the crisis in Yemen started
  5. State-building
    1. Extremist Groups and Terrorism
    2. Tribal Conflict
    3. Yemeni Revolution and Uprisings in 2011
    4. Patronage Practices
    5. Foreign Actors’ Involvement and International Donor Aid
  6. Nation-Building
    1. North Yemen Versus South Yemen
    2. Houthis
    3. AQAP
    4. Fragmentation of the State
    5. The Reformation of National Identity
  7. Comprehensive Development
    1. Accountable Institutions
    2. Federalism
    3. Women
    4. Healthcare
  8. Conclusion


  1. Executive Summary

Why should rebuilding Yemen matter to the rest of the world? What can be done to improve the political climate, economic disaster, and severe humanitarian crisis? The answer is simple: Currently, Yemen is a nation experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises and civil wars in the world. The continuation of human rights violations and abuses continue in Yemen, along with unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law, indiscriminate violence through combat and drone strikes killing innocent civilians is only the surface. The truth is that Yemenis civilians, especially women and children, will experience famine, suffer from disease and poor sanitation, and go into drought as a result of the war. Without the fundamental elements of state-building, nation-building, and comprehensive development structures, improvements in accountable governance, this nation cannot be saved. However, there is the potential for turmoil to be halted and for conditions to improve in Yemen if international donors and internal actors participating in the war take the initiative to end the war, make policy decisions such as implementing the following recommendations, and improve accountable governance through measures of state-building, nation-building and constructive comprehensive development. There are so many possibilities and opportunities for improvement that these actors could do that would significantly change the course of many Yemenis lives. The internal and external participants must unify and form an international community because Yemen is not a lost cause and people need help.

  1. Policy Recommendations

Recommendations to all parties involved:

  1. The Peace Treaty

A peace treaty between Yemen and Saudi-Arabia must be established, which would be mediated by Sultan Qaboos with civil society at the table. The formation and agreement to the terms of the finalized peace treaty would take place in Oman for security purposes.

  • The continuation of building the Saudi-Yemen Barrier that commenced in 2003 was halted in 2004 after the Saleh government objected to it, however, it should be recommenced immediately. Saudi-Arabia will be given control of the Yemen-Saudi border, which will allow for economic gain through control of trade and movement of resources, as well as protection against the Houthis. However, the condition upon the Saudi government having control over the border requires that Saudi Arabia must permit humanitarian and developmental aid to enter Yemen and stop participating in any form of blockade.
  • In order to serve as motivation to allow Saudi control of the border, Houthis will be given asymmetric federalism in Sa’da governorate that will assure their protection from evangelical Salafis and access to coastlines. The Houthis must comply with demands under UNSC 2216 (end use of violence, demilitarize, remove arms, withdraw territorial control, stop threatening other states, release political prisons, stop with the child soldiers).
  • Acknowledging the concerns that the Southern Yemeni Council has regarding political recognition and control, South Yemen will also be granted asymmetric federalism in one unified governorate to safeguard their economic interests.
  • Other governorates will have federalism, yet less power than the aforementioned actors above.
  1. Yemeni National Dialogue

Government can’t progress in agreement with social unrest, and can’t be implemented without civil input. In order to make any form of progress, it is necessary to open up a discussion involving the Yemeni people. A major problem in Yemen is the lack of political involvement and voice civil society has, thus the YND is giving back the power to the people. The groups involved would be Ansar Allah, independent Yemeni youth activists, the GPC (both the doves and hawks), Hirak, independent Yemeni women, and the JMP. The agenda and topics of discussion during the YND would be as follows:

  • Electoral reform
  • Security sector reform
    • Consolidation of militant organizations
  • Humanitarian aid delivery, distribution and redevelopment
  • Deconstruction of patronage networks
    • Advances toward the revival of civil society

Recommendation to President Hadi and the Yemeni Government:

  1. Transitional regime constructed through democratic system elections
  2. Implementation of an effective federalist political system giving power

Recommendations to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthis (Ansar Allah):

There must significant efforts from both sides to engage in a total ceasefire in order to return to a Yemeni political process.

Recommendations to foreign donors, particularly, the United States:

International donors have the ability to make a significant difference in promoting peace, therefore they must take actions to lessen the destruction in Yemen.

  • Indiscriminate drone strikes by the United States must end, as they have resulted in a mass number of civilian casualties, including innocent women and children unaccountable for the causation of the civil war.
  • There must be further development of international donor strategies in order to ensure the people in need have access to humanitarian aid and resources such as, food, clean water, healthcare, and so forth.
  1. Introduction

Yemenis civilians continue to bear the brunt of the civil war in their homeland. The Houthis who have seized control of the capital of Sana’a continue to combat the anti-Houthi armed assemblages, the Saudi-led coalition, and army units loyal to exiled President Hadi. The fighting has had devastating humanitarian consequences, and while the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces have retaliated against the Houthis, they are no closer to reinstating the official, internationally recognized government in the capital of Sana’a. As of January 2017, Yemen has a population of about 27.4 people, over 50 percent of under the age of eighteen, and 70 percent under the age of twenty-five. There are approximately 18.8 million in need and 10.3 million in acute need. More than 7 million people do not know when they will eat again, and more than 8 million face acute shortages of clean water and sanitation. Over half of health facilities are not functioning. Nearly 3.3 million people, including 2.1 million children, are acutely malnourished. On average, the conflict kills or injures nearly 75 people every day. The rapid deterioration of the economy has likely affected many more than have been accounted for. Violence since mid-March 2015 has forced more than 3 million people from their homes, including 2 million who remain internally displaced as of January 2017. In December 2017, former president Saleh was killed during combat near his home in Sana’a, raising the tension even further between the regime and the Houthis. As the war persists and the lack of accountable governance fails to improve, Yemeni civilians remain in humanitarian crisis.  The aforementioned recommendations are based on state-building, nation-building, and comprehensive development measures to recover from the nation’s humanitarian crisis and progress toward rebuilding accountable governance. Accountable governance refers to the collective responsibility of state officials to preserve public trust in government by delivering on policy outcomes and safeguarding public interests and funds, therefore, a fundamental component in stabilizing the political climate of Yemen.

  1. How the crisis in Yemen started

North Yemen and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was comprised of Aden and the former Protectorate of Saudi Arabia, existed as two distinctly separate states. In May 1990, the divided regions of North Yemen and South Yemen united forming the Republic of Yemen, the modern state we know today. The military officer Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled North Yemen since 1978, assumed leadership of the newly unified country. Despite the officially recognized unification, Yemen continued to remain politically, socially, and economically divided between the North and the South, particularly due to the lack of accountable governance by the Saleh regime and his beneficiaries. Al-Hirak, a movement of southern Yemenis who felt marginalized under the post-unification government, collected in 2007 and since has pressed for greater autonomy within Yemen, if not sovereignty. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the related Ansar al-Sharia insurgent group have captured territory in the south. The Houthi movement, whose base is among the Zaydi Shias of northern Yemen, rose up against Saleh’s government six times between 2004 and 2010[1].

The structure of Yemen’s governmental system deceptively portrayed itself as a democracy through parliamentary elections in 1993, 1997 (which was boycotted by the Yemeni Socialist Party), and 2003; as well as the presidential elections in 1999 and 2006. Civil unrest continued to advance and evolve throughout Saleh’s different stages of rule, which can be chronologically grouped into: I (1978-1990), II (1993-1999), and III (2000-2009). The strife involved many actors such as the Houthis, a Zaidiyyah Shia movement that emerged as an insurgent group in 2004, the politically overlooked youth and women that displayed their grievances during protests in 2011, Al-Hirak, AQAP, and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The JMP consists of a number of groups including the YSP, Islah, Al-Haqq, Baathists, Nasserists, and the Union of Popular Forces.  Particularly during his first two stages of rule, the Saleh regime secured his power though patronage networks and maneuvering his influence upon various factions. In November 2011, President Saleh stepped down from presidency and handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is supported by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates’ military coalitions and was inaugurated in February 2012[2]. In 2014, Houthi rebels proceeded to take control of the capital of Sana’a, the national center of government politics. In March 2015, the Islamic State carried out its first major attacks on Yemen through two suicide bombings targeting Shia mosques in Sana’a, in which 137 people are killed. Shortly after, Houthi rebels began to advance toward South Yemen. Hadi fled Aden, a southern port city and the commercial center of Yemen. In response to Houthi insurgent actions, the Saudi-led coalition of Gulf Arab states launched air strikes against Houthi targets and imposed a naval blockade[3]. In August 2015, the UAE stepped up its role in the coalition by sending a military brigade, along with tanks and other armored vehicles, into Aden. As of 2017, the Yemeni people continue to suffer from the aftermath of the prolonged civil war by experiencing famine, water scarcity, lack of accessible humanitarian aid and resources, a devastated economy and severe political instability.

  1. State-building

Firstly, after the unification of Yemen in 1990, the numerous failed attempts by the Saleh regime to provide domestic security, functioning state-led institutions, and rational legal legitimacy, have played crucial role in contributing to the civil war. The main contributors to the absence of domestic security are international terrorism, violent extremism, religious and tribal conflict, and a heavily armed population. Secondly, the Saleh regime’s use of neopatrimonialism and a hierarchical-based socioeconomic system furthered political and financial corruption in Yemen. Thirdly, the involvement of foreign donors, such as the United States, UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and France, by the way of the foreign aid that they provide, specifically without surveillance or allocation requirements, allowed for the regime to continue using patronage systems, causing civilians to be abused and neglected by the state.

The recommendations that have been provided are required for state-building. A peace treaty involving Yemen and Saudi-Arabia must occur to provide a general ceasefire and allow for the rebuilding of the nation. This peace treaty would greatly improve the accessibility of humanitarian aid and resources, as well as make strides to limit casualties and violence between several parties. Following the peace treaty, the Yemeni National Dialogue will allow for voices of all different people in civil society, not just elite officials, ensuring the most accurate representation of citizens’ interests. Following the conference, a transitional government, that will only be determined after the conference, will help restructure the governmental system in Yemen, especially as President Hadi has been exiled.

  1. Yemeni Revolution and Uprisings in 2011

A revolution is the repudiation and thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed. This form of radical and pervasive change in society and social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence against the state government. In 2011, the Yemeni Revolution occurred during the Arab Spring, as a result of mass dissatisfaction with the nation’s levels of unemployment, economic conditions, and state-led corruption. As the revolution progressed, the protesters’ demands escalated to call for the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh[4]. Mass defections from the military, as well as from Saleh’s government, effectively rendered much of the country outside of the government’s control, and protesters vowed to defy its authority.

  1. Extremist groups and terrorism:

One of the greatest concerns in regard to violent extremism and terrorism is the spread of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its Yemeni local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia. The coalition has targeted Yemeni civilians as potential members for years. According to the International Crisis Group, AQAP is working within local norms, forging alliances with Sunni allies, assimilating into militias and embedding itself in a political economy of smuggling and trade that shapeshifts into various military-based functions, including the Houthi/former President Saleh alliance[5]. AQAP has fundamentally altered the dynamics in Yemeni politics, the economy, and the security of its citizens. These extremist groups’ growing power is due to several political and economic reasons, including the loss of hope in the potential for economically and politically restructuring Yemen by poor Yemenis citizens. The starting point for these individuals can be described by the mantra: “The future is lost. There is no hope”[6]. AQAP has rooted itself in Yemeni society and the Middle East by manipulating its followers that they share grievances in common with the Yemeni people, such as the government ignoring their voices. The terrorist group sees this as a possible entry point into Yemeni power that would allow them to carry out more attacks in the Gulf and Horn of Africa[7]. According to members of the UN Panel, there were a number of international humanitarian law violations and human rights abuses committed by Saleh-Houthi forces, much needed humanitarian assistance being inhibited and using starvation as a coercion tactic and method of warfare[8]. These factors are definite reasons for Yemenis citizens to seek political reform and financial aid elsewhere, even if that means from extremist groups like AQAP or the Islamic State.

  1. Tribal Conflict

Aforementioned, tribal conflict has greatly impacted domestic security and has impeded the ability for state institutions to function. Yemen is categorized under legal pluralism, which means it follows the concept that there is more than one law holding power over the population. State laws, tribal law, Sharia, and Personal Status Law all have enormous influences on the political and legal structures of Yemen. The varying interests and values as a result of the absence of uniformity, diminishes the capability and capacity of state control and state-led institutions. Jurisdiction of this kind, that has been the traditional model for tribal law in Yemen, blurs the line of what is considered legal and illegal due to tribal rules that vary by region. Differentiating tribal rules makes it extremely difficult to develop a single legal system, in which everyone will follow. If a single legal system were to be developed, it would definitely aid nation-building in Yemen. The lack of clarity in tribal law between different tribes is evidently dangerous when the population is heavily armed and acts using violence to solve conflicts amongst its people. The mobilization of tribes and the social divisions that tribalism has created, has made it extremely challenging for Yemenis of different tribal backgrounds to peacefully come together and coexist. While the attempt at unifying the nation in 1990 may have seemed realistic at the time, many believe that the failure of unification greatly contributed to the neopatrimonialism form of politics that emerged in Yemen. This unstable political atmosphere that was centered around conflict in the North, allows us to identify the shadow of separation that would eventually be cast over the entire country.

  1. Patronage Practices

Practices of neopatrimonialism and embracing a top-down political system, prevented anyone outside of Saleh’s inner circle, regime elites (tribes, clerics, ministries), and establishment elites (bureaucrats and political parties (JMP) from receiving any financial, political, or humanitarian benefits. Although Saleh is no longer alive, President Hadi has been exiled, and territorial control has been divided between to the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi and the Houthis, there is an absolute lack of unification or structure. Considering how deeply incorporated the patronage system is in Yemen, it is important for us to understand that the revolution needed to occur in order for any sort of accountable governance, the rebuilding of state institutions, and the unification of a culturally diverse nation to be formed. In order for the revolution to be successful and result in reformation of the state, it required commonality in the driving force of the opposition. The activists would need to expose how negative the effects of the regime were on Yemen and to distinctly determine how these effects transcended all particularities, despite differences between parties, regions, tribes, sects, or genders. An example of neopatrimonialism is how inner circle elites such as Sheikh Abdullah manipulated the system so his descendants would be among the key beneficiaries of the regime, even though they did not hold posts in the cabinet because, “He masterminded a series of strategic appointments for the most able of his ten sons, securing a stake in the ruling party, the opposition coalition, the tribal aristocracy, the president’s inner circle and the business elite”[9].

Foreign Actors’ Involvement and International Donor Aid

The involvement of the major foreign donors, such as the US, Iran, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, through the foreign aid that they provide, specifically it being provided without surveillance or allocation requirements, which has allowed for the regime to continue using patronage systems, causing civilians to be abused and neglected by the state. Although the US has not committed combat forces, the US military and intelligence personnel provide technical and logistical assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, including in-air refueling for coalition warplanes. These forms of weaponry have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by targeting civilian residences and infrastructure and failing to protect civilians from harm, as well as perpetuated a war-economy, financially benefiting the US[10]. The US is supporting the United Nations Special Envoy’s peace plan and working to encourage negotiations and discourse between the two parties. The Trump administration must continue these diplomatic efforts to end hostilities and reach an internationally supported political settlement, work with Yemen’s neighbors and the rest of the international community to establish secure routes for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and craft a comprehensive infrastructure and economic reconstruction plan. The US must also work with other members of the UN Security Council, which has been circumvented by the Saudi-led coalition, to ensure that any further military intervention in Yemen complies with Chapter VII of the UN Charter[11].

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are often identified in unison due to their common goal of defeating the Houthis and restoring Hadi’s government to legitimacy after the civil war. Saudi officials have claimed that they would like to remove itself from the conflict in Yemen, however, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors to the country and without its support, there would be a lot less funding and aid to assist the millions in need,  meanwhile the UAE has become more involved in the conflict, indicating a divide in the two countries’ agendas. According to Khaled al-Ansi, there is the potential that the coalition’s goal has shifted and the Saudi’s move to keep Hadi from returning to Yemen means that it has “failed in defeating the [Houthi] coup”[12].

  1. Nation-Building

Nation-building is a complex process of equalizing different regional groups’ needs in

relation to the state. If done right, nation-building should lead to the creation of countries where citizens feel united in their interests, goals, and needs to instill pride as a member of the nation[13]. Doing so creates a national community that in turn provides legitimacy for state-run programs. However, if the state fails to provide such groups adequate support necessary to build a communal nation, the state will fail as its people turn to informal organizations that can provide the sense of community the state is lacking. Therefore, the focus turns to how the lack of nation-building in a state inhibits accountable governance, how a nation can be built through accountable governance, and how nationalism can be rebuilt through accountable governance. It is necessary to understand why nation-building matters in an operational state, as well as what a government structure should be required to provide to its people. It is also necessary to consider how to rebuild a nation after it fractures and how Yemen has attempted to account for the variety of shared communities not within the state.

  1. North Yemen Versus South Yemen

After the unification of South Yemen (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) and North Yemen (Yemen Arab Republic), the YAR quickly dominated the political landscape during the 1993 elections[14]. The period between 1994 and 2010 was characterized by worsening poverty, dwindling supply of water, limiting political and social freedoms, and economic decline[15]. This caused the already underrepresented Southern Movement, or al-Hirak, to start to push for independence or at least equal representation as North. Al-Hirak were also limited in equal social opportunities, which caused unrest in the southern part of Yemen for they never truly felt equal to the North[16]. This feeling of exclusion many groups felt came from a patronage system under the authoritarian regime of Saleh created a large wealth and representation disparity between elites close to Saleh and those who were negatively affected by Saleh’s corrupt practices.

  1. Houthis (Ansar Allah)

The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, started to fight against the YAR because of their lack of representation in politics as well as lack of autonomy for their group and economic grievances causes by the state’s misuse of goods[17]. Iran is the Houthis’ primary international backer and has reportedly provided the Houthis with military support, including arms. Yemen’s government has also accused Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese ally, of aiding the Houthis. Saudi Arabia’s perception that the Houthis are primarily an Iranian proxy rather than an indigenous movement has driven Riyadh’s military intervention[18].


  1. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

External actors like the U.S and Saudi Arabia provided aid to Yemen to fight al-Qaeda and the AQAP who were capitalizing on the discontent of the nation and recruiting those who were disenfranchised by the state[19]. The AQAP has grown with the weakening of the state and has orchestrated terrorist attacks as well as worked with the Southern Movement in some areas due to their similar disliking of the state[20]. The danger with groups working together is it further undermines the legitimacy of the state. This extensive list of grievance lead to nation fragmentation of the Yemeni State, which worsened as the civil war started after the transition period failed to account for major Yemeni groups.

  1. Fragmentation of the State

The basis of the Yemeni civil war is the lack of representation for non-state actors where dissatisfaction for the regime has emerged due to lack of equal representation, deteriorating living conditions, violence over resources that should be provided by the state, as well as a lack of basic services. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a major concern and international activists fear that the next generation of Yemeni youth will suffer from malnutrition and a lack of education. In addition, international security also exists as a large concern[21]. Yemen poses serious threats to the regional and international order; however, many believe nation building is a necessary response to a failed state. Nation building is seen as an investment strategy where the state provides for their public in return for solidarity during times of regional instability[22]. Without a united accountable government focusing on rule of law which can provide health care, infrastructure, domestic production, as well as basic security, there will be a threat to internal and external security in Yemen[23].

Accountable governance can be used for nation-building practices in order to strengthen the state, repair national fracturing, and allow for equal representation of marginalized groups. An example of a nation-building practice to restore the state is the unification under a modern central government aided by international assistance[24].  April Artrip, of the Yemen Peace Project, believes that the US should intervene because the national government in Yemen has shown they are unable to create lasting unity, and their political weakness and lack of accountable governance was the reason why nation-building broke down and groups defected from the state. Atrip proposes that the reconstruction of Yemen should be nationally driven by citizens to ensure community cooperation and a strong base, which represents the foundation of any nation, the people[25]. She believes US participation will stimulate growth in unity for a long-term solution, and the US and other international actors should support this community-led initiative by contributing aid limited to certain groups to avoid rent-seeking behavior[26].

Enhancing political participation through elections and within the national dialogue can be can be difficult in a post-conflict state, as seen with the failed NDC in Yemen, but in that case not all parties were included, nor did all the various needs attempt to be met. We can see with the Southern Movement how their desire for an autonomous region in the South was not exactly valued at the same level as one of the ruling elite’s desire for the transitional government.

  1. The Reformation of National Identity

Dr. Paul Williams, president of the Public International Law and Policy Group, which was advising the Yemeni government on the constitution-writing process, was to create better relations with the public[27]. He said they should “Yemenize” all aspects of the constitution rather than following models of other recovering countries had used, they needed to be specific to Yemen and work with the complexities of the national divide between groups.40 Tribes could be used to “Yemenize” the constitution by making suggestions as to how it should include and provide for the normal Yemeni’s interests. Many people have written about how independent tribes build their own independent sense of nation due to the lack of accountable governance. This ultimately undermines the legitimacy of the state since rural groups rely on tribes for stability. In a way, tribes have regulated conflict and established their own sense of justice for centuries while the official central government has struggled[28]. Some researchers like Nawa al-Dawsari believe that tribes have held the national identity of Yemen together in the face of political conflicts and the failing economy. Others argue that as some tribes grow stronger, the state grows weaker[29]. There were also tribes who couldn’t function as well as others. After 2011, the GCC deal excluding many groups made the tribal system more appealing. Although they are not diverse groups, they are culturally homogenous units, which is what the majority of scholars agree is necessary for nation building. There is a sense of accountability for tribal leaders as well as rules created by social contracts, they have their own system of protection as well as economic structure, essentially everything the Yemeni government should have is represented in small tribes[30].

The tribe’s people feel intentionally ignored and marginalized by the government when it comes to rights and access to resources. If the Yemeni government wants national reconciliation and to practice accountable governance, the tribal example shows they need to create a legal system to foster trust and cooperation between political players and their communities. The existing literature makes it clear it’s not enough to recognize grievances but not include those who actually have grievances, as the NDC did with excluding the Houthis, the youth movement as well as women’s grievances.

  1. Comprehensive Development

Comprehensive development occurs when resources are divided in an equitable manner such that there are not severe gaps in development between men and women, divergent ethnic groups, the various regions of a state, and other stakeholders. Asymmetric development occurs when a state fails to address the needs of a given demographic group or region because it is unable to assess the needs of the population, does not have sufficient resources for the population, or is willfully punishing the population. In order to bring Yemen together after years of war it is necessary to analyze the optimal policies to achieve comprehensive development, which include the presence of accountable institutions, a cautious framework adopting federalism, and a political process that is inclusive towards women and civil society.

  1. Accountable Institutions

Although Yemen has traditionally been structured as a dictatorship, it passes the town square test and remains a free society since the weak authorities are not capable of silencing dissent in the public sphere[31]. Despite its advanced democratic deliberative process, Yemen is a country that has traditionally possessed authoritarian political structures and these institutions have had a marked effect on Yemen’s development. Decades of rule by Saleh degraded existing democratic institutions, mired Yemen in a series of bloody internal conflicts, established a patronage network that squandered the country’s wealth, and the power struggle to become the next strongman of Yemen contributed to the current crisis. To heal the wounds of Yemen’s civil war and comprehensively rebuild the tarnished country, accountable institutions are necessary. Today, Yemen is on the brink of famine due to warring parties harkening back to the days of Julius Caesar by using starvation as a weapon of war, but even before the war lesser degrees of food insecurity existed because Sana’a was unaccountable to its citizens. Amartya Sen argued that famines are avoidable and never occur in democracies precisely because the authorities must win over voters during regular elections, read news reports from an independent press criticizing the government, and bear the political costs of failing to prepare for famines. Sen notes that the greatest victims of the famine were rural populations with limited incomes and mobility that could not bear the brunt of higher food costs that were caused not by a significant decline in food production, but rather the misplaced priorities of the state[32]. Yemen bears an unfortunate resemblance to this problem as a country where there are near-famine conditions in much of the countryside despite abundant food stores within urban areas where most of the development is concentrated and this same model could surely apply to shortages of other essential resources like water. Critically, in giving a voice to the most vulnerable, economic growth under democracies often provides more even, comprehensive development that gives the poor access to positive rights, albeit such security is dependent on the choices of politically engaged citizens[33]. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that accountable institutions likely won’t be a panacea that allows for a functioning welfare state, but it will improve the likelihood that the most fundamental demands of the disadvantaged are met as the government creates a more equitable balance between the impoverished majority and the elites.

One obstacle to institutional democratization is the notion of the resource trap, which entails the state accruing rents directly from natural resources instead of receiving its treasury from taxation, which would require some degree of accountability to citizens in order to be effectively collected. Indeed, scholars have noted that oil-producing regional economies tend to grow slower than their non-oil producing counterparts in authoritarian states because the government seizes large tax revenues to support their rentier state[34]. This is certainly supported by the experience of Yemeni oil-producing governorates that have long complained of neglect. Yemen is long past the point of its peak oil wealth, which represents a blessing and a curse as it will force whatever post-war political order emerges to renegotiate its relationship with citizens, but it may also decrease state capacity at a time when prodigious reconstruction efforts will be necessary. King Salman of Saudi Arabia has claimed that after the war he wants to invest in rebuilding Yemeni infrastructure and integrate Sana’a with the GCC, but policymakers should treat such promises with suspicion or downright concern insofar as the GCC has frequently excluded the Middle East’s poorest country and this monarchical alliance. may take more steps to inhibit Yemeni democracy, which would ensure asymmetric development persists[35].

Yemen had difficulties enforcing the rule of law equally in all parts of the country and turned towards the traditional community-based conflict resolution mechanism to facilitate post-war justice in the model of marqoum agreements, which has been effective at stipulating water-rights in parts of Yemen[36]. Yemen is in the dire predicament of having its groundwater levels declining by ten to twenty feet annually, creating circumstances under which Sana’a could become the first world capitol to run out of water. The central government lacks the capacity and legitimacy to enforce water restrictions on rural Yemenis who have an incentive to privately drill for water before their neighbors in order to sustain the cash crop that supports their livelihoods. If continued after the war, the adoption of the National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Program to decentralize water resource management may bear fruit in conserving water supplies and delaying catastrophe because it empowers local communities that are more accountable and have the capacity to enforce agreements using tribesmen[37]. Lichtenthaeler noted that even when Hijrat al-Muntasir adopted a marqoum agreement that limited the tragedy of the commons that the water table continued to decline through regular consumption and some days the villagers simply do not have access to water. This demonstration of the limitations of devolution emphasizes why a powerful central authority capable of creating national solutions to the water crisis is still necessary[38].

Historically, Yemenis were able to evade the regime’s patronage networks because they found lucrative jobs in neighboring Gulf States that could provide remittances. This income is difficult to tax and provided citizens with a great deal of leverage over the state. However, after Sana’a declined to support a military response or economic sanctions to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, one million Yemeni expats were expelled from the land of their oil-rich neighbors. The 1984 discovery of oil in Yemen switched the power dynamic as the black gold soon comprised 75% of the state budget. Although this did not provide sufficient jobs for Yemenis, it did provide abundant revenues for patronage politics. Through patronage, the Saleh regime was able to purchase the loyalty of key members of the civil service and armed forces, but this misallocation of funding resulted in tremendous amounts of the state budget being wasted instead of utilized to develop the Middle East’s poorest country[39]. The inclusive nature of Saleh’s patronage networks ensured that members of the political opposition directly benefited from the existing regime and were unlikely to push for serious reform, which surely contributed towards the JMP’s dissonance with its revolutionary constituencies during the Arab Spring[40]. Thus, dismantling these patronage networks will be critical towards creating genuine institutional checks on power, giving agency to historically marginalized regions, and allowing for the most efficient and equitable development strategies.

  1. Federalism

The National Dialogue Conference was unable to agree on an exact scheme for federalism because Yemenis are deeply polarized over what the regions in a federal state should look like. Many in former South Yemen desire one single southern region, but Sana’a may be right to fear that such a structure would facilitate eventual independence. Van Tilburg notes that even when states have the capacity and autonomy from political elites to engage in devolution that in many instances the local governments that replace central governments are just as corrupt and ineffectual. The independence of the Common Development Fund may prove to be the most salient detail for change agents in Yemen, which has long struggled with rulers who promise to end South Yemen’s economic marginalization and instead merely divide southern leadership with strategic patronage[41]. However, properly managed decentralization derives certain benefits from diffusing decision-making power, thereby increasing the number of citizens in post-conflict states who are invested in maintaining the new order, especially when this process is inclusive of civil society. Decentralized participatory governance has failed because the former states engaged in competitive electoral politics that encouraged political parties to work with civil society despite institutions compromised by corruption. Without competitive electoral politics that displaces entrenched elites who would resist devolution, local governments are unlikely to receive the power and resources they require[42]. This may pose a problem for Yemen, which has endured frequent power struggles between the former inner circle of the Yemeni regime and new power claimants while its primary opposition parties became discredited by backing the GCC agreement.

  1. Women

Yemen is in the midst of a devastating civil war that has killed thousands of people, obliterated much of the country’s infrastructure, and created millions of displaced persons. Peace negotiations have struggled to even include intervening powers like Saudi Arabia, but the available literature suggests getting more parties, namely civil society groups, involved in the negotiations will lead to a more permanent peace. Military conflicts disproportionately harm women and civilians in general as they are the subjects of gender-based violence. However, garnering development opportunities for women and other unarmed parties in civil society requires their inclusion in peace negotiations and postwar political structures, which is made arduous when they do not have access to the leverage of violence. In fact, Wanis-St. John and Kew found a correlation between the inclusion of civil society in the peace negotiations of authoritarian elites and greater sustainability of peace agreements, which is explained by the concords accumulating greater public buy-in and dispersing peace dividends to a wider audience instead of tailoring them towards narrow armed interests[43]. The authors qualify their support for civil society inclusion with concerns that more actors involved in the process could slow down the peace process or introduce spoilers. Yet, the correlation still exists and its value is reinforced by the “people-focused peace agenda” that it fosters, which can ensure that the postwar government is more responsive to the needs of women and unarmed parties[44].

The existing literature on women’s development strongly suggests that the inability of women to participate in politics hinders gender equality. Therefore, one possible method to improve the accountability of institutions to Yemeni women’s development is by mandating women’s participation in politics, whether this be locally based or taking the form of a quota in parliament. Although quotas can generate positive results for women, policymakers must take precautions to ensure that female politicians actually represent women, which can be challenging, especially in sectarian, post-conflict societies. Sen argues that an open and interactive democratic process can diminish sectarianism by facilitating the mindset of identifying with the imagined other through emphasizing other facets of identity like nationality, profession, location, and gender[45]. Yemeni women who have developed immense experience in the associational sector would benefit greatly from quotas in parliament. However, greater institutional power has not translated into greater societal power and patriarchal attitudes towards women remains a significant issue and currently seems unlikely to produce many tangible results for women’s development.

  1. Healthcare

Yemen’s Government Healthcare System is critically understaffed, chronically underfunded, and criminally inaccessible to rural populations. With prohibitive costs, few rural facilities, and the vast majority of Yemenis uninsured, the country’s healthcare system was in poor condition even before the most recent conflict where hospitals have become targets of war. Women, in particular, bear a disproportionate cost from this healthcare malady due to high maternal mortality rates and high birth rates that carry explicit and implicit costs that worsen poverty and decrease women’s agency. The lack of anti-natalist policies also contributes to the plight of the substantial young population as the youth bulge creates conditions of high unemployment, income inequality, limited education opportunities, urban sprawl, and rising demand for food and water[46]. However, family planning services cannot occur in a vacuum and must be joined with legal and economic reforms that create a minimum marriage age and give women the agency to resist marital rape, to receive an education, and to find employment.

International donors could improve Yemen’s healthcare by shifting away from misallocated military aid that is abused to target political opponents and instead investing more in the human capabilities of Yemenis by expanding the mission and territorial reach of programs like PEPFAR to include Yemeni health issues. Donors should also reassess their campaign to compel Yemen to adopt neoliberal economic restructuring that caused the government to forsake its constitutional duty to provide healthcare in the first place. If the post-war government improves Yemen’s healthcare it could reinvigorate the legitimacy of the state while saving lives among the rural majority of the population, and appealing to southerners who long for the Marxist state that guaranteed universal healthcare.

  1. Conclusion

Yemen is in a complex civil war where the alliance is constantly forming and breaking making nation building through war impossible. International intervention could help, however, historically the Yemeni government takes the aid into their patronage network and it never actually gets used for resource allocation or humanitarian aid. Nation building is possible yet, it is clear there needs to be a strong state that would require conditional aid from foreign powers. Yemen needs to allow active participation to shape the common will. This does not mean those in government or leaders of tribe’s will, it means groups that have been excluded even more, like women, or the youth population that isn’t taken seriously. Allowing people to have input creates trust. The failed state-building practices that were in place throughout Saleh’s rule surfaced when he was no longer able to put up a façade. Federalism does not seem plausible because further dividing the country would cause for the collapse of Yemen, the patronage systems to continue, and it would allow for specific group gains too much power. To lessen the asymmetry between men and women’s development, a combination of institutional and social change is required. International donors could improve Yemen’s healthcare by shifting away from misallocated military aid and should invest more in the humanitarian development, especially since 2015.


  1. Counsel on Foreign Relations. “Yemen in Crisis.” (accessed November 26, 2017).
  2. Amnesty International. “Nowhere Safe for Civilians: Airstrikes and Ground Attacks in Yemen.” (accessed November 26, 2017).
  3. BBC. “Yemen profile – Timeline.” (accessed November 26, 2017).
  4. Ginny Hill. 2017. Yemen Endures. (London: Hurst & Co, 2017).
  5. International Crisis Group, “Yemen: Is Peace Possible?” (Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2017).
  6. Christopher Boucek, “Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral” in Yemen on the Brink (Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010).
  7. Yemen Peace Project. “America’s Role in Yemen 2017 and Beyond 2017.” (Washington, DC: Yemen Peace Project, 2017).
  8. Al Jazeera News Staff, “Have Saudi and the UAE’s aims in Yemen war shifted?” (accessed November 27, 2017).
  9. Alberto Alesina and Bryony Reich, “Nation Building,” National Bureau of Economic Research, (2015).
  10. Helen Lackner, Why Yemen Matters (London: Saqi Books, 2014).
  11. Stephen Day, Yemen on the Brink, ed. Christopher Boucek and Marina Ottaway (Washington D.C: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010).
  12. Paul Miller, “The Case for Nation-Building: Why and how to Fix Failed States,” Prism: A Journal of the Center for Complex Operations (2011).
  13. Meira Weiss, “The Children of Yemen: Bodies, Medicalization, and Nation-Building,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly (2001).
  14. April Artrip, “CSIS: Yemen Needs Nation Building and Reconstruction Efforts for Peace,” The Yemen Peace Project, (2017).
  15. Kevin, Davis, “The Challenge of Federalism in Yemen,” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, (2014).
  16. Nawa al-Dawsari, “Tribal Governance and Stability in Yemen,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (2012).
  17. Michael Horton, “The Tribes of Yemen: An Asset or Impediment to Stability?” The Jamestown Foundation, (2011).
  18. Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2006).
  19. Amartya Sen, “The Practice of Democracy,” from The Idea of Justice, (2011).
  20. Michael Alexeev and Andrey Chernyavskiy, “The Effect of Oil on Regional Growth in Russia and the United States: A Comparative Analysis,” Comparative Economic Studies, (December 2014).
  21. Roy Miller, Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).
  22. Gerhard Lichtenthaeler, “Water Conflict and Cooperation in Yemen,” Middle East Report, no. 254, (Spring 2010).
  23. April Longley Alley, “The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen” Middle East Journal, No. 3 (Summer 2010).
  24. Anthony Wanis-St. John and Darren Kew. “Civil Society and Peace Negotiations: Confronting Exclusion” in International Negotiations 13, 11-36. (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Leiden, 2008).
  25. Cammett, Melani, Ishac Diwan, Alan Richards, and John Waterbury. “The Impact of Demographic Change,” in A Political Economy of the Middle East, 125-158. 4th edition. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2015).

[1] Counsel on Foreign Relations. “Yemen in Crisis.” (accessed November 26, 2017).

[2]Amnesty International. “Nowhere Safe for Civilians: Airstrikes and Ground Attacks in Yemen.” (accessed November 26, 2017).

[3] BBC. “Yemen profile – Timeline.” (accessed November 26, 2017).

[4] Ginny Hill. 2017. Yemen Endures. (London: Hurst & Co: 2017), 229.

[5] International Crisis Group, “Yemen: Is Peace Possible?” (Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2017), i.

[6] Hill 2017, 279.

[7] Christopher Boucek, “Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral” in Yemen on the Brink (Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010), 14.

[8] Hill 2017, 285.

[9] Hill 2017, 220.

[10] Yemen Peace Project. “America’s Role in Yemen 2017 and Beyond 2017.” (Washington, DC: Yemen Peace Project), 3.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Al Jazeera News Staff, “Have Saudi and the UAE’s aims in Yemen war shifted?” (accessed November 27, 2017).

[13] Alberto Alesina and Bryony Reich, “Nation Building,” National Bureau of Economic Research, (2015), 3.

[14] Helen Lackner, Why Yemen Matters (London: Saqi Books, 2014), 8.

[15] Ibid, 9.

[16] Stephen Day, Yemen on the Brink, ed. Christopher Boucek and Marina Ottaway (Washington D.C: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2010), 61-62.

[17] Helen Lackner, Why Yemen Matters (London: Saqi Books, 2014), 7.

[18] Counsel on Foreign Relations. “Yemen in Crisis.”

[19] Paul Miller, “The Case for Nation-Building: Why and how to Fix Failed States,” Prism: A Journal of the Center for Complex Operations (2011), 63-74.

[20] Day 2010, 62.

[21] Meira Weiss, “The Children of Yemen: Bodies, Medicalization, and Nation-Building,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly (2001), 215.

[22] Miller 2011, 65.

[23] Ibid, 70.

[24] Ibid, 70.

[25] April Artrip, “CSIS: Yemen Needs Nation Building and Reconstruction Efforts for Peace,” The Yemen Peace Project, (2017).

[26] Ibid.

[27] Kevin, Davis, “The Challenge of Federalism in Yemen,” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, (2014), 56.

[28] Nawa al-Dawsari, “Tribal Governance and Stability in Yemen,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (2012).

[29] Michael Horton, “The Tribes of Yemen: An Asset or Impediment to Stability?” The Jamestown Foundation, (2011), 1.

[30] Nawa al-Dawsari 2012.

[31] Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2006), 40.

[32] Amartya Sen, “The Practice of Democracy,” from The Idea of Justice, (2011) 340.

[33] Sen, “The Practice of Democracy,” 346-347.

[34] Michael Alexeev and Andrey Chernyavskiy, “The Effect of Oil on Regional Growth in Russia and the United States: A Comparative Analysis” Comparative Economic Studies, (December 2014): 517-519.

[35] Roy Miller, Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016) 264-267.

[36] Gerhard Lichtenthaeler, “Water Conflict and Cooperation in Yemen,” Middle East Report, no. 254, (Spring 2010): 33.

[37] Lichtenthaeler 2010, 30-31.

[38] Ibid, 35.

[39] April Longley Alley, “The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen” Middle East Journal, No. 3 (Summer 2010): 388-389.

[40] Alley 2010, 393.

[41] Ibid., 399.

[42] Heller, 653

[43] Anthony Wanis-St. John and Darren Kew. “Civil Society and Peace Negotiations: Confronting Exclusion” in International Negotiations 13, 11-36. (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Leiden, 2008), 14.

[44] Wanis-St. John, Kew, 24

[45] Sen, 346

[46] Cammett, Melani, Ishac Diwan, Alan Richards, and John Waterbury. “The Impact of Demographic Change,” in A Political Economy of the Middle East, 125-158. 4th edition. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2015), 138-140.

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