Search for Common Ground: Peace in Yemen Relies on Addressing Local Divisions

Search for Common Ground, an organization dedicated to conflict resolution, published a report outlining recommendations for securing peace in Yemen. The current conflict has deepened regional, political, religious, and tribal divisions, and has eroded the capacity of the centralized government to address disputes and needs. In the absence of state control, local organizations, such as civil society groups, have arisen to take responsibility. In order to establish peace and stability in Yemen, the international community must empower local leaders in their dispute resolution and peacebuilding efforts, which will facilitate social cohesion and bridge the divisions that prevent peace.


Violence and the humanitarian crisis now reach all Yemenis, diplomatic attempts at peace negotiations and ceasefires in 2016 were unsuccessful, and social cohesion at the local-level continues to disintegrate. Yet the current situation in Yemen is not ripe for a military or high-level diplomatic solution to take hold because it will be undermined by the existing and deepening conflicts at the local level. Societal divides – tribal, sectarian, regional, and political – are deepening and remain the critical lever for peace and stability. No national or international process can be successful and sustainable without targeted support to local level efforts to address these divides.


The current conflict has impacted every level of Yemeni lives. The conflict has multiple layers that heighten the intensity of devastation and entrench divisions: the violence between the Houthis and the Hadi-led government, the proxy-war dynamics between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the rise of extremist groups such as AQAP, and the salience of sectarian divisions. Airstrikes have damaged and destroyed infrastructure and civilian facilities, cholera and food insecurity threaten millions of lives, the economy has collapsed, and tribal and local divisions have resurged and defined people’s lives to a greater degree than before. The erosion of the central government’s control has empowered local communities and provided an avenue for dialogue between groups, but it has also created security vacuums where violence and political extremism flourish. However, there are opportunities for peace that depend on three critical factors: the public’s acceptance of peace, mediators’ efforts to implement a peace deal, and the public’s acceptance of the deal’s validity.


Although this conflict has exacerbated identity disputes and diminished the level of interaction between the different parties, identity-based conflict can be influenced. When communities have the mechanisms to resolve disputes, which have shifted to resource-based disputes colored by sectarian affiliations, they can mitigate the influences of war. As the significance of local communities has increased due to the war, conflict resolution on a national scale must build upon these dynamics.


A high-level peace arrangement that achieves political agreement will not resonate with divided communities, leaving a peace process but limited prospects for peace...Local mediators and interlocutors can both respond to local needs and grievances, but also bridge the divide between national and local to reflect interests at a higher scale. Addressing the growing divides within communities now and working to reconcile differences on the local level will engage conflicting groups to peacefully coexist, identify mechanisms and leaders for handling disputes, and create the channels to feed local interests and concerns into national processes.


The international community’s approach to peace negotiations in Yemen has been flawed so far. Although it must continue to deliver humanitarian aid, it also must grant support to local peacebuilders and ensure that peace negotiations are inclusive, participatory, and influenced by grassroots peacebuilding. The national peace processes must reflect local interests, and conflicting parties must compelled to engage and reconcile. The authority that local civil society has developed can be used to the advantage of any peace negotiations by constructing more inclusive platforms and mechanisms for peace. One such tactic can be equipping youth and women with peacebuilding tools, expanding the list of influential actors beyond traditional leaders. Youth are “seen as the source of violence” and thus have a large potential to foster peace and transform themselves into future leaders. Women have become more influential over the conflict, pressured into working and managing the family due to the challenges of war, and they maintain connections that span over sectarian divisions.


A ceasefire and peace process must be enacted as quickly as possible to prevent the disintegration of Yemeni society, which is currently threatened by disease, impending famine, and the escalation of sectarianism. Empowering local communities is key to lasting stability, as their power and influence has grown over the span of the conflict - and their position as a significant authority in the lives of Yemeni civilians promises a productive antidote to deepening divisions.