UPDATE ON 19/02/2011: Widespread protests continue in Yemen. The BBC reports that five people have been killed in anti-government rallies. Read Cathy Scott's blog below to find out more about the reasons behind the protests...
As Yemenis prepare for a ‘Day of Anger’ on 3 February, Progressio’s Regional Manager reflects on why tens of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets.
Life in Yemen is unmistakably tough, so it’s not surprising that people are expressing their frustration and blame the government for their woes. With a ‘Day of Anger’ planned for tomorrow we are monitoring the situation closely, and minimising risks in order to keep our staff safe. But, provided it happens peacefully, it’s very exciting to see people express their anticipation of positive change for the future.
Mostly, Yemenis are worried about their livelihoods – the price of basic commodities has become unreachable for the poorest. Yemenis are struggling with deepening poverty, food and fuel crises, diminishing oil reserves, water scarcity, high levels of youth unemployment, and conflicts in various parts of the country – inter-tribal conflicts, separatism in the south, and a simmering war with the Houthis in the North.
There is also the added presence of Al Quaeda militants bent on fomenting further unrest, which has drawn the US and other Western countries to focus on the country, augmenting military and other forms of aid.
Are the protests affecting Progressio's work?
Progressio has worked in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, since 1974, contributing to the training of local midwives and birth attendants, HIV and AIDS services and advocacy work, and building capacities of local organisations to engage with local government.
We are committed to empowering Yemenis to improve their future by improving their ability to participate in their own governance through dialogue and engagement with local and national officials. We place development workers with local organisations to build up local capacities and transfer skills which contribute to this aim.
Ongoing demonstrations, while slowing down some of our activities, are not currently preventing us from carrying out our work.
What does unrest mean for ordinary Yemenis?
If the demonstrations elicit a positive reaction from the government, and a recognition that the things holding Yemen back – such as the high levels of corruption – have to change, then that will be a good thing.
It could be an opportunity for democracy to establish a greater root in Yemen, and a moment in which the country is seen to be able to listen to its citizens. It would certainly be disappointing to see the protests suppressed, especially if this is done violently. So far the marches have been largely peaceful – we are hoping that it will stay that way. UPDATE ON 19/02/2011: The BBC reports that five people have been killed in anti-government rallies.
Yemen is experiencing added political turmoil, partly, but not wholly inspired by trends in the region. Yemen was due to have a general election in April 2009, but this has been postponed by the president for two years.
The ruling party has apparently sought to enshrine constitutional amendments, one of which would enable President Ali Abdullah Saleh to remain as President for life.
Recent demonstrations lending support to Egyptian rallies for self-determination, have been calling for the Yemeni President to stand aside too.
Time for talking and building up trust
As long as government officials and local people are willing to keep talking, build up trust and act together to improve the lot of their communities, progress can be made.
Photo: The President's Mosque, Sana'a (© Kate Nev/Flikr creative commons)