CARPO, the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient, released their latest report on Yemen, Understanding Peace Requirements in Yemen, on March 5, 2019. The report highlights political and social factors that impact the ongoing conflict, identifying requirements for peace in relevant sectors, and important actors that can play a role in meeting these requirements.
The report examines social structures and fault lines, dynamics of the conflict, state institutions, and external factors. The situation in Yemen is often seen by outside observers as a binary proxy war between the Houthis, supported by Iran, and the internationally recognized Hadi government, supported by the Saudi-led coalition. This fails to take into account the complex divisions in Yemen and the prominence of intra-Yemeni regional identities. There is a major divide between the northern and southern regions of Yemen, which existed as separate states until 1990. The north, home to the Zaydi Shi’a population and capital San’a, has been more dominant since unification, while the south has chafed under northern control and continues push for independence. Other strong local identities are found in the east and in central Yemen. An additional aspect to the regional dynamic are the tribal structures that shape society in different ways throughout Yemen. During his 33-year-long presidency, Ali Abdullah Saleh used a patronage system, which saw northern elites gain access to state resources and grow in prominence, while central and southern Yemenis were excluded from power.
In determining requirements for peace, the report looks at the sectors of the economy, politics, culture and society, and security and justice. At the start of the war, Yemen’s economy was already weak. The government’s relocation of the central bank to Aden caused additional damage to the economy. Additionally, the war has disrupted hydrocarbon exports and foreign financing. As a result, salaries have gone unpaid and the Yemeni rial has faced severe depreciation. Moreover, the destruction of industry and agriculture has caused diminished income, a shrinking labor market, and the halting of local production. Of further importance is the flourishing war economy and the diversion of humanitarian aid by the Houthis and other parties. Addressing the management of the central bank, stabilizing the Yemeni rial, and strengthening the economy are all necessary for peace.
In regard to politics, in order for peace to be successful additional parties should be included in the UN-led peace process, state institutions need to be restored, and actors at the local level need to be involved in policy-making. Southern secessionist groups--most importantly the Southern Transitional Council--have increasingly demanded inclusion in the peace process, and the successful implementation of any peace deal is doubtful without their participation. The absence of state institutions and services prompts a lack of trust in the state and creates a gap that is filled by local actors with their own interests. Institutions at the governorate, district, and sub-district levels lacks the capability to successfully govern and needs monitoring mechanisms. Although federalism was agreed upon in principle in the early phases of the transition following the resignation of Saleh, the future federal structure needs to be renegotiated.
On the cultural and social front, the report explains that Yemen has seen the shattering of social cohesion and the deepening of regional divisions. There is diminishing trust between social groups, and finding a national consensus is difficult. To attain peace a consensual Yemeni identity that people from various regions can relate to, while also acknowledging value of diversity to Yemeni society, is necessary. In the short term, trust-building is a priority.
Security and justice concerns vary by region. Some areas have experienced little to no fighting, while others have been severely affected by combat and airstrikes. Moreover, depending on the region, security is provided by the state or by nonstate actors, and the rule of law is not enforced consistently or uniformly. According to the report, capacity-building for security institutions and the demobilization of militias are crucial requirements for peace.
According to CARPO’s research, peace will only be possible when the challenges facing Yemen’s economy, politics, culture and society, and security and justice sectors are addressed. The actors that can contribute to these peace requirements include civil society, women, the media, youth, and the private sector. Civil society has the ability to address emerging threats to peace, but needs capacity-building assistance as well as ability to operate amidst constant threat from multiple actors. Women have seen their roles grow outside of the traditional sphere, and have had success in humanitarian efforts and maintaining social cohesion. While the media is subject to outside control, it has the ability to function as a watchdog, but only if the rights of journalists can be secured and if media institutions can operate independently. Moreover, while the youth population, which makes up two-thirds of the total population, has been pulled into the war, it has the potential to drive social and political change, as was demonstrated in 2011. Lastly, the private sector has the potential to create new employment opportunities and help stabilize Yemen if properly empowered and regulated.