Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 30
already approved 2009 budget.186 In response, Sanaa appealed to the international community for financial support. A senior government official said, “there is no external solution to the conflict, and the reconstruction committees must address the main grievances. But the government needs resources to fulfil its commitments”.187 Although officials met with Western governments in the weeks following the proclaimed end to fighting, the donor community was cautious. In the words of a diplomat from an important donor country:
There is a consensus in the international community that we should wait for guarantees before launching development projects in Saada. No one will invest in that region unless there is a guarantee that war will not resume. This is a way to put pressure on the government and elicit information on the reconstruction and conciliation process.188
Another diplomat explained that Western governments would be reluctant to financially back a government-controlled fund meant to repair what government forces themselves had destroyed and were likely to destroy again if another round erupted, unless conditions on the ground stabilised.189
Persistent instability in the affected regions is another factor hindering reconstruction efforts. Since the July 2008 ceasefire, Saada governorate remains unstable principally due to skirmishes between pro-Huthi and pro-government tribal groups. In particular, the latter accuse the committees of bias, and, in retaliation, members of aggrieved tribes block roads and attack rival tribes. Regime hardliners who oppose reconciliation also criticise the committees’ work and take steps to undermine them.190 They might well be behind the forced resignation in mid-November 2008 of Abd-al-Qadir Hilal as minister of local administration and head of the national reconstruction
186 In the six months following the 17 July 2008 ceasefire, oil prices dropped precipitously. Parliament approved the 2009 budget on the basis of $93 per barrel; between January and May 2009, the price of a barrel remained at an average of around $50. In response, the government announced it would cut spending (excluding public sector salaries) by half. Oil revenues are around 70 per cent of the government’s overall income. Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Sanaa, January 2009.
187 Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 7 January 2009.
188 Crisis Group interview, Western diplomat, Sanaa, 14 January 2009.
190 Crisis Group interview, Nabil al-Sufi, independent journalist, editor in chief of Abwab monthly magazine, Sanaa, 4 January 2009.
committee. Security officials had accused Hilal of excessive leniency toward the rebels.191 For several independent observers, this was another sign of regime division and hesitation to end the war.192 Under his replacement as reconstruction committee head, Abd-al-Aziz Dhahab, the committee has lost dynamism and much of the credit it previously had gained.
The Huthi leadership likewise has displayed ambivalence toward the reconstruction committees. Although international NGOs and UN agencies have been able to carry out programs in war-affected zones without apparent difficulty, access by national fund and committee members has been less smooth.193 Yahya al-Huthi has accused both governmental and local reconstruction committees of lying about their objectives as well as spying on the Huthis and their sympathisers. Moreover, he said, “the government is using the committees to convince foreigners that it is taking positive steps”.194 Others echoed al-Huthi’s message.195 As a result, relief officials assert, the national reconstruction fund has been unable to fully assess the damage in Huthi-controlled regions – reportedly those that suffered most from bombardments and fighting.196
191 Al-Hayat, 16 November 2008.
192 Crisis Group interview, Nabil al-Sufi, independent journalist, editor in chief of Abwab monthly magazine, Sanaa, 4 January 2009.
193 Crisis Group interview, international humanitarian NGO official, Paris, 28 January 2008.
194 Crisis Group telephone interview, Yahya al-Huthi, Berlin, 3 February 2009.
195 An opposition figure asserted: “The government agreed to have pro-Huthi individuals on the reconstruction committees only because it wanted the Huthis to believe that it genuinely has the will to end the war, while in fact it does not”. Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 9 January 2009.
196 Crisis Group interview, international humanitarian NGO country representative, Sanaa, 13 January 2009. The claim reconstruction fund officials have had no access to rebel-controlled zones was contested by the fund’s executive director: “We work with everyone. We do not care if they are Huthis or with the government. The fund’s role is not political. We treat all Yemeni citizens equally. We only carry out a technical evaluation and then we give people whose property has been destroyed a cheque so that they can buy what they need to rebuild their house or farm. Frankly, there is no ban on our reconstruction work by the Huthis. We work wherever we want. If Yahya al-Huthi, who is abroad, criticises us and accuses us, it is because he does not know what we are doing exactly, how many houses have already been rebuilt and how much progress we have made with the population”. Crisis Group interview, Muhammad Thabit, Sanaa, 21 March 2009.