While Yemen remains locked in a grand political dispute, its people bound by the competing ambitions of various factions and militias, it is likely that peace will require more than a coming together of those warring parties … Peace will call for an institutional rethink of the proverbial ‘generation gap’.
Waves of protest are currently engulfing not only the region (Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq) but the world (Chile, Hong Kong and Barcelona). And while each country faces its own socio-political problems, all have a common denominator: a disenfranchised and disillusioned youth.
And though Yemen’s peace will undoubtedly be brokered when all actors – whether local or regional, find enough common ground to formulate a political solution to their respective upsets, no resolution will be worth more the ink with which it’s written if Yemen’s generation gap remains unaddressed.
Though statesmen can formulate a nation’s future, it is the people who ultimately determine how such a future actually turns out. Today Yemen needs a vision which will allow its youth to look into the future with confidence, strong in the knowledge that tangible actions are being taken to address their most immediate needs.
Interestingly enough Yemen offers a perfect demographic mirror to what is fast becoming a global challenge – there are more young people than ever (41% of the world population) and almost all share a common fear of a future scarred and marred by economic inequalities, social grievances, and a lack of true political representation.
Yemen has the youngest population in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa, with three-quarters of its population under the age of 30, and so Yemen is today the most vulnerable state of them all.
Give the effect that war exacerbated poverty, a complete meltdown of all civil institutions, and the pressure internal population displacement has had on cities such as Sanaa and Aden, it appears evident that Yemen’s political future and its very viability as a nation-state hinges on its political elite’s ability to meet pressing socio-economic demands.
Over 20% of Yemen‟s population is aged between 15 and 24 and, according to UN estimates, by 2025 that will have increased by 69% – the second fastest growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Yemen also has high rates of illiteracy and together with Egypt and Iraq, holds three-quarters of the 10 million illiterate youth in the region – two-thirds of whom are girls.
Yemen’s pre-existing social deficit, the profound lack of basic services such as housing, education, healthcare, sanitation and jobs, has been compounded by political volatility, religious radicalisation, armed conflicts, shortages of food and water and dwindling natural resources as a consequence of mismanagement and corruption. And though those issues are currently swamped by the politics of war, at least as far as the media are concerned, those realities will ultimately determine the true face of post-war Yemen.
A strong causality exists in between poverty and radicalisation – whether political or religious, even more so among the youth, and more still among the uneducated youth.
In the face of such challenges Yemen truly sits in the eye of a dangerous storm … Needless to say it does not sit there alone. Whatever upheavals Yemen faces in the coming months and years will dramatically impact the Gulf region.
Yemen’s saving grace may lie in the state’s ability to apply itself to long-term development goals – preferably in keeping with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Priority should be given to increasing and strengthening educational and economic development opportunities for the young, with a focus on improving female participation.
Funds should be devoted to ensuring increased educational access for girls, and employment opportunities should be centered on manufacturing industry, services and other new, expanding sectors, rather than on agriculture and the civil service.
Concrete steps must be taken to redress former failures. After all, there will be little left to argue over if Yemen ceases to exist as a sovereign state, notwithstanding the nightmare policing a failed state would turn out to be for Yemen’s immediate neighbours.
This article was first published in New Eastern Outlook