Yemen’s future will depend on more than promises
I am on my way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a meeting next week with a diverse range of government representatives and members of global development organizations that will focus on a single subject: a stable and prosperous future for Yemen, and how to achieve it.
It will be an opportunity for a broad cross section of the international community to discuss with the transitional government the many challenges the country faces, and the sort of support that is needed to restore basic services, create jobs and put the Yemeni economy back on the road to recovery.
The agreement sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and brokered by both Yemen’s neighbors and the international community, initiated the current transition. But it only addressed the political dimensions of the crisis. Sustaining the momentum of the transition process, and preserving its gains, will require serious financial and technical support for Yemen over the next few years. At the same time, the Yemeni Government will have to take serious steps to improve governance and undertake the necessary reforms to ensure the maximum impact of all support delivered.
Yemen faces tremendous economic and social challenges. More than half of the people live on less than US$2 a day, and the malnutrition rate among children under five is more than 50 percent, the second highest in the world. Unemployment is rampant, with rates reaching as high as 40 percent for young people. The annual birth rate is 3.1 percent, also one of the highest in the world, which puts serious pressure on limited government resources to expand basic infrastructure such as schools and health services.
The transition government has prepared an ambitious recovery plan that outlines specific goals and priorities for the next two years. The budget gap to implement the plan covering the period until 2016, is around US$11.9 billion; this includes US$4.3 billion for the short term and US$7.6 billion for the medium term. We hope to raise US$6 billion during the donor meeting to cover the transition period lasting until the middle of 2014. We will hold another donor conference after 2014 to raise the rest of the needed funds.
Successful implementation of the economic recovery plan will depend on multiple factors. It is paramount that the security situation improves to provide a stable environment for the implementation of projects, although this does not mean that the government should wait until the country is fully secure before moving ahead with key reforms and actions. Appropriate mechanisms to realize and manage donor programs will also have to be in place. This will require the hiring of the right people for the right positions, based on skills and qualifications rather than political connections. All of this will have to be backed up by serious efforts to fight corruption and improve governance. The private sector will have an important role to play, and needs to be encouraged with the right business environment that includes Public and Private Partnerships, special economic zones and better support for small to medium enterprises. This is equally true of civil society, who need to be engaged as significant partners in the transition process.
Our experience of the 2006 Donors Meeting taught us that while financial pledges are important, it is far more critical that the international community fulfill these pledges, and that the government implements the programs they fund in an effective and transparent way. Therefore, this time we will have an agreement that clearly lays out the commitment of the transitional government to improve governance, to partner with the private sector and civil society, undertake necessary reforms, and put in place effective mechanism for the implementation of donor-supported programs. While at the same time, it will reaffirm the international community’s support for the transitional government, with a commitment to fulfill all pledges on time, and to provide the necessary technical assistance for the design and implementation of projects and reforms.
This agreement will be more than a handshake. It will be itemized in detail in a document called the Mutual Accountability Framework that will be formally endorsed by the transitional government and the international community. Review mechanisms will also be established to monitor the fulfillment of the obligations agreed to by both parties.
In addition to discussing and agreeing on the Mutual Accountability Framework, there will also be sessions on the humanitarian crisis, and the role of the private sector and civil society in the political transition and economic recovery. These sessions will ensure the inclusion of the private sector and civil society, and allow them to contribute to the debate on Yemen’s future, and offer their views on what should be the priorities as the country confronts the many social and economic challenges. As there is a limit on the number of civil society organizations that will actually be able to travel to Riyadh, we encouraged all organizations to convene an all inclusive meeting in Sana’a to agree on a message that will be taken to the donor conference.
During the Riyadh meeting, donors will also announce the amount of their respective financial support for Yemen. Saudi Arabia has already generously pledged US$3.25 billion, and I do hope the other members of the Friends of Yemen will contribute as generously.
This is not an act of charity, but rather critical support for the Yemeni people during the transition period. If the transition in Yemen is successful, it will benefit not only its people, but will also contribute to regional stability and ensure the safety of global trade routes.
The stakes are high, as falling short of success would have significant negative impacts on the region and possibly the world … and would be, of course, a catastrophe for the Yemeni people.
In closing, I want to tell the Yemeni people that they are not alone. They started their revolution for better lives and a more accountable government. The new leadership has made bold moves on the political and security fronts that have started to bear results. They need to match this with equally bold moves towards economic reforms, improving governance, and partnering with the private sector and civil society.
I do not think the government has a choice. The people care less about changing faces at the top, and more about improving their lives and seeing hope for a better future. The transition will only be successful if people believe tomorrow will be better than yesterday.