The elusive road to peace in Yemen

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Introduction: Yemen is now the bloodiest site of civil war that has become global in which all interested countries participate at different levels. The conflict has been dominated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in which Saudi Arabia plays a leading role. The United Nations (UN) has also played a key role in most recent peace processes, but has not, thus far, been an effective force for peace in Yemen. It is pointed out that the military acts on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government and a coalition of Middle Eastern states. This coalition is led by Saudi Arabia, which “marks” the collapse of the GCC process for a peaceful political transition. In 2015, the UN adopted a resolution authorizing an arms embargo on the local forces, and legitimizing the military actions of the coalition.

The role of the global arms trade in this conflict is tremendous. Coalition members had access to hi-tech military equipment. According to Sonal Marwah and Tom Clark the ongoing transfer of arms and ammunition to coalition forces, Saudi Arabia in particu¬lar, has fueled the war efforts. The Houthis (also called Ansar Allah) are a Zaydi Shia insurgent group that fought wars against the Yemeni government, attracting additional support from militias in the uncertainty after the wars. Houthi forces have also benefited from an influx of weapons from outside, particularly from Iran.

The conditions for peace: The experts in the Middle-east politics believed that the prospect for peace may be realistic if the UN played its role properly. The UN resolution of 2015 was never supported by all actors in the conflict and the path it proposed has already proven unworkable. The experts think that a more open-ended approach is needed. At one point, the resolution calls for “a peaceful, inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led political transition process that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people, including women, for peaceful change and meaningful political, economic and social reform.”

Here is a better starting point. The UN needs to take up its traditional role of coordinating and building peace, rather than endorsing an “externally” developed process. The transfer of weapons must be more effectively controlled and tracked. The original arms embargo on Yemen should be extended to all par¬ties involved in the conflict. There is extensive evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has used arms in “violation” of international humanitarian law and human-rights law. Under these conditions, the experts insist, no state should supply Saudi Arabia or other coalition mem¬bers with weapons that could be used in Yemen.

In the Yemeni civil war foreign countries are involved in providing military and financial support to one or more sides. Studies have found that external interventions in “domestic conflicts” do not lead to a rapid military victory. They are likely to make “internal conflicts deadlier and more protracted.” The parties to the conflict are less amenable to traditional peace settlements.

Such a civil war that involved several countries can be difficult to end, because the sides tend to “splinter” over time, creating more parties that must be satisfied, each with a veto that could spoil a peace settlement. Foreign countries with diverging interests, with varying forms of involvement and support to different actors, add to the complexity of the war. In the past seven decades the UN has played key roles in most peace processes. Sometimes, an international peacekeeping force has been used to maintain peace. Sanctions and embargoes on arms, travel, or money have been imposed as deemed appropriate.

The UN has also coordinated efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by conflict. For the experts, however, the war in Yemen is a special case. The war in Yemen has been termed as the “elusive” road to peace. It is pointed out that this conflict has been dominated by the GCC from the beginning. The UN has not been an effective force for peace in Yemen. It is now the site of one of the bloodiest civil wars in the world.

The genesis of the conflict: The modern Republic of Yemen was formed in 1990 with an agreement to unify North and South Yemen. It is the poorest country in the Middle East. Although, like other Gulf States, it has oil, the economic benefits have been experienced mainly in the north and by the Hashid people, to which former president Ali Abdullah Saleh belonged. Saleh, who had served as President of North Yemen since 1978, became President of the Republic of Yemen in 1990. The Middle East experts consider his administration as highly corrupt and unwilling to consider reforms, despite periodic demands for political reform and greater sharing of the wealth.

In January 2011, in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, large-scale protests against the Saleh regime broke out in Yemen. Marwah and Clark indicate that at the time, 40 per cent of Yemen’s population lived on less than $2 a day. The regime collapsed in the same year. With the civil war in 2015, the GCC intervened on behalf of the ousted government to bring peace to the country. But, the war has led to a deteriorating humanitarian situation for Yeme¬ni citizens. It was believed that the UN involvement would lead to peace in Yemen by satisfying the internal and external players involved in the civil war. But, the main challenge was to find the political will necessary to bring all parties to the table and hammer out a lasting agreement.

Participants in the conflict: The history of Yemen shows that the civil strife broke out in 2011. There were several countries that participated in the conflict. Among the Yemeni leaders was Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the only candidate, who was elected President of Yemen in February 2012. Internationally recognized as president, he has not received constant support from the leaders of his own army, although he still enjoyed the support of influential Yemeni military leaders. In 2017, Hadi’s position was weakened by the defection of several southern governors to the “Southern Transitional Council.”

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh remained head of Yemen’s leading political party after he left office and enjoyed personal loyalty from powerful units of the army. In 2014, he formed an alliance with the Houthis, but maintained his control of military units loyal to him. Following his death in December 2017, the Houthis moved swiftly to assume control of his supporters.

The Houthis are an insurgent group that fought six wars against Saleh between 2004 and 2010, attracting additional support from militias in the uncertainty after 2012. The Houthis work with a network of militias plus former government military units that have deserted President Hadi. Many, but not all, officers are Zaydis. Houthis are active in or control the northern highlands and the western coast.

TheHirak/SouthernMovement/Sout hern Transition Council began in 2007 as a political movement to secure “independence” for the southern part of Yemen. It boycotted the 2012 presidential election. In May 2017, the Hirak factions came together and the movement evolved into the Southern Transitional Council, a third government in Yemen that attracted support from several southern governors. It enjoys some support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) military forces operating in the south as part of the Saudi-led coalition.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was formed in 2009 by the union of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al-Qaeda. It has become a significant source of local insurgency, seeking to acquire territory and experiment with local government. It was expelled from the port of Mukalla in 2016, but remains active in the south. The Yemen branch of Islamic State was established in 2014 and involves mainly non-Yemenis.

In 2015, the newly ousted President Hadi requested military aid from outside states to regain the presidency. In response, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the UAE formed a coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia to mount a military intervention in Yemen that involved airstrikes and ground forces.

 The experts Marwah and Clark recall that the militias have been established by coalition members to fight in Yemen. The UAE trained and funded elite militias such as the Security Belt Forces and the Hadrami and Shabwani Elite Forces. With the permission of President Hadi, the US has continued air and drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen. It has also undertaken related ground operations. The US has provided logistic and intelligence support to the Saudi-led Coalition.

Major arms suppliers: Marwah and Clark pointed out that the US has been a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, including cluster bombs. On the other hand, there is evidence that Houthis have been supplied with arms by Iran. Both the UK and France have been large suppliers of weapons and military equipment to the Saudi-led coalition. UK and French military officers have also been in the command and control center for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen.

The Stalemate: It is reported that Yemen’s war has reached a stalemate in which outright military victory by any side is impossible. An estimated 23 million Yemenis are now in need of humanitarian assistance or protection; 11 million of those are in acute need. With this humanitarian disaster, the Yemeni conflict has become a great challenge to the UN.

Conclusion: While each war is unique, there are lessons from other protracted civil wars that have experienced external interventions that may apply to Yemen. The peace-building efforts in these war-torn countries offer a wealth of knowledge and analysis that can be used to design peace plans to “prevent” other wars.

If the war in Yemen cannot be ended, the resulting security vacuum and humani¬tarian crisis will be lingering creating further disasters for the Yemenis. It will be a fertile ground for terrorist organizations that promote their style of rule over the region of the Middle East.

The hardships of the Yemeni people are expected to spread across countries beyond the Red Sea. The main target of terrorism seems to be the region of the Horn of Africa. This region is believed to be fragile and fragmented by racial, ethnic, and tribal wars that contributed to immense economic, social and political disruptions. People of this region are engaged in recurrent fights that denied them peace and security. Ethnic groups rise up and engage themselves in internecine and bloody fights to assert themselves as powers among castes and social groups. The objective of these powerful groups is to subdue, calm and pacify the weak natives of the region while “plundering and preying” on their natural resources.

The Africa region should take the Yemeni crisis seriously. This crisis could easily spread into the rest of this region like an “unknown” flu for which there is no remedy found. Some of the ruling regimes in the region are not keen to protect their people from ill-health for it claims huge resources. Instead, they focus on maintaining their economic and political superiority over the people they rule.

Africa, including Ethiopia, should strive to root out the causes of frictions among their people. People are programed by their ethnic or tribal leaders to kill their fellow brothers and sisters aimlessly. These leaders, being immature and wild, are engaged in rudimentary acts of blood-letting of neighbors and other tribes in their vicinity. African political leaders seem to enjoy the horrendous scene in their sphere of influence. Tribal skirmishes in rural areas seem to distract people from focusing on politics and business in the capital cities.

I think we should take the Yemeni lessons seriously. We should look carefully at foreign intruders ready to destabilize and exploit our minor local divisions along racial, ethnic, and tribal lines. Indigenous problems need only native and “homegrown” remedies. It is not new and late for Africans to realize that “foreign solutions” are totally unfit to local problems. Foreign advice, remedy and prescriptions for African problems are only elusive, vague and intangible and, therefore, misleading. Unfortunately, by the time African leaders became mature enough to feel these alien and elusive approaches, they are no longer there, removed from power either through death or coups.

Thank you.

The Ethiopian Herald Sunday Edition June 7, 2020

 BY GETACHEW MINAS