Beyond the Politics of Yemen: the Help We Need From the UK

Dr Nadia Al-Sakkaf *

Today, the estimated population of Yemen is 30 million. Almost 60% are under 25 whilst 27% are under 10 years of age. This means more than 8 million children have spent their entire life time in an armed conflict; all they know is war. For eight million Yemeni children, the scarcity of food, healthcare and security is a given, and death is an everyday occurrence.

Nonetheless, despite the devastating effects of war, Yemen continues to prove its resilience and hope for the future. Civil society - predominantly led by women - has stepped up to provide emergency services and support for local communities in the absence of a stable state. They have defied stereotypes by engaging in leadership roles within communities, to maintain peace and care for the most vulnerable. Additionally, local journalists are bravely risking their lives to report from the ground and across international media platforms (with the help of the diaspora). Meanwhile, grass root initiatives continue to provide humanitarian relief to vulnerable communities and activists have facilitated mediations and successfully released thousands of detainees from all sides.

Furthermore, the ingenuity of Yemenis is admirable as they utilise new ways of generating income, from charging people’s phones during electricity blackouts to transporting goods and people across conflict zones or using solar power in agriculture. Yemenis are tapping into their intrinsic resourcefulness to create locally designed solutions for locally (for the most part) created problems.

The fact is that we, as Yemenis, are primarily responsible for the situation we find ourselves in; therefore, we are also the ones who will primarily get ourselves out of it. The question we must consider then is what do we expect from the international community, especially the UK who is Yemen’s pen-holder in the Security Council?  

Beyond the politics of peace and reconciliation, there are several important issues that we urgently need the UK to advocate for as tools for recovery and post-war rehabilitation.

The issue I advocate for is the de-politicisation of the banking and telecommunication sectors which are often overlooked during mediation talks despite their implications on the sustainability of peace. There are various ways to achieve this without affecting the power dynamics and local sovereignty of the warring parties.

Currently, Yemen has two central banks - neither of which operates efficiently. The recent debates on the UN Panel of Experts report and its subsequent analysis have highlighted numerous issues with the banking sector in Yemen, namely the impact of mismanagement and the politicising of technical institutions on the overall economy. The current failings of the banking sector directly affect millions of Yemenis who rely on the state for their wages thus demonstrating an urgent need for banking reforms.

Due to the divide within this sector, we have two currencies at different values. Currency depreciation, especially in the south hit an all-time low  at the end of 2020, causing inflation in basic commodities at 38%, further exacerbating the rampant food insecurity and humanitarian crisis.

Depoliticising the banking sector will improve public confidence in Yemen’s business and investment opportunities and allow the private sector to rapidly revive the economy while state institutions recover. Research suggests that a positive business environment in post-conflict transitioning states massively improves a country’s stability and prolongs peace agreements.

In addition to the shortcomings of the banking sector, Yemen’s telecommunications sector is suffering. Despite advancements of technology, globalisation and the growth in digital spheres, only one in four Yemenis has access to the internet. Worse still, the connection is often instable which affects vital sectors such as healthcare, banking and education. For example, whilst many countries have utilised online platforms to continue education in the pandemic, this has not been a viable option in Yemen.

This disconnect is also disproportionate as it affects women and the poor much more severely. Internet in Yemen is one of the most costly in the world, and on average, Yemeni women’s presence on social media ranges from 2.8% to 30% at best, showcasing a huge gender gap in access. Furthermore, the utility of internet for those few who have it is also worth noting. Due to the high cost and slow connectivity of existing service, most individuals use internet on their smart phones to access social media and not to increase their productivity.

Furthermore, currency exchanges and remittance from abroad (contributes up to 23% of the GDP) as a primary source of income has also been disrupted by internet instability. Access to information on health issues and security is monopolised by local authorities who control the existing networks and heavy-handedly clamp down on journalists and activists who attempt to inform the public. This virtual disconnect in technology aggravates humanitarian consequences of the existing physical isolation from the rest of the world, contributes to further economic deterioration and prolongs the conflict.

Depoliticising the banking and communication sectors must be included in all peace talks mandates at all levels, as they are basic human rights. These two sectors are some of the fastest developing industries worldwide and there are ample regional and international organisations willing to help, provided there is willingness to accept this help. This is a matter of great urgency that deserves attention from the international authorities.

For the sake of the future of Yemen and its people, political influences must be removed from these institutions, to enable the professionals to fulfil their duties and design viable solutions that realistically alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and their future generations. Let us move ahead beyond politics.


* Dr. Nadia Al-Sakkaf is Yemen’s first female Information Minister and female Chief Editor of a national independent media establishment. She is an award winning advocate for press freedoms, and gender equality and an international researcher with special interests in media, democratic transitions, gender and development. Al-Sakkaf is co-founder of the National Reconciliation Movement of Yemen, Connecting Yemen, and is a member of the advisory board of Labour Friends of Yemen.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of LFY.