Sunday, July 26, 2009

Aid Won't Fix The Crisis in Yemen

Jane Novak

On July 17, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh celebrated the 31st anniversary of his ascension to power. The Sana'a regime, perverted by corruption, is largely unable to provide public services, including water, electricity, security, medical care and education. A third of Yemenis—7 million people—are malnourished. Police and military units act as enforcers for corrupt officials. The judiciary dispenses political retribution. Torture in Yemeni jails is systemic and brutal.

On his anniversary, Saleh published an essay calling for dialog and tolerance. The same week, 18 protesters were killed by police, a journalist sentenced to jail and an opposition party prevented from holding its conference. A four-year rebellion in the north and a two-year uprising in the south threaten to engulf the nation in violence. Known al Qaeda operatives roam the capital freely, and teenage suicide bombers routinely target elderly tourists.

Yemen's donors believe stabilizing President Saleh's regime will thwart the devolution of Yemen into a failed state and an al Qaeda safe haven. U.S. aid proposed for 2010 is at the highest levels in years. The Department of Defense allocated $66 million in military aid, mostly for patrol boats and armored pick-ups. Congress' Foreign Operation Appropriation bill includes an additional $15 million in military aid and $40 million in development and economic aid. Other humanitarian aid is channeled through USAID. However, increased funding to Yemen is a questionable strategy that may escalate instability.

Yemen already receives more aid than it can effectively absorb. Donors pledged $4.6 billion in 2006. Yemen declared "renewed commitment to urgent reforms." Years later, the state is still drawing up implementation plans for much of the funds. The lack of progress was a significant disappointment, yet predictable in an environment of rampant corruption. Billions in aid, oil revenue and other state funds are embezzled, stolen, diverted or misdirected, without consequence. Absent strict oversight, aid is subject to elite capture and often does not reach intended recipients.

U.S. military aid intended for border security may wind up fueling atrocities. The Yemeni military bombed cities and villages heavily in the northern Sa'ada province while countering a rebellion that began in 2004. The Sa'ada War, dubbed "Yemen's Darfur," forced nearly 200,000 citizens to flee their homes. The government blocked food, aid and medicine to 700,000 Sa'ada residents in "an act that appears to constitute an illegal collective punishment," Human Rights Watch found. Officials explained the deliberate starvation was meant to pressure villagers to turn over rebel fighters.

The small band of Zaidi rebels—triggered by political exclusion—grew to thousands. They claim they are acting in self-defense against a Wahabbi-inspired campaign of Shiite eradication. The Yemeni government insists the rebels seek to re-establish a theocratic monarchy.

The latest ceasefire required the release of arbitrarily arrested Hashemite men and boys, but hundreds are still in jail. With the government's mediation committee headed by a major arms dealer, sporadic clashes indicate the war will likely resume and may spread beyond its previous boundaries to engulf the nation. The International Crisis Group recommends that to preserve the fragile peace, external parties "refrain from military assistance to the parties in conflict, including the Yemeni government."

In South Yemen, massacres of protesters have become routine. The "southern mobility movement" began in 2007, calling for equal rights denied after 1990's unity of North and South Yemen. The government's response to the unrest was to shoot into the crowds and arrest thousands, sparking a cycle of civil unrest. Dozens of citizens were "deliberately killed or died as a result of excessive use of force by the security forces during peaceful protests," Amnesty International said. In June, there were 42 demonstrations, 17 injuries and five deaths. On July 23, a particularly bloody day, 18 protesters were killed during a demonstration in Zanzibar, Abyan. Protesters are now demanding southern independence and allege the unified Yemeni state is illegal under international law. With no end in sight, U.S. military aid—even trucks—may inadvertently facilitate the civilian slaughter...more..