The presence of incessant conflict in Yemen for four years has devastated millions of livelihoods. The number of displaced civilians is set to trample world war equivalents, which will transform Yemen into the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 20 million civilians living in Yemen are at risk of starvation (Winter, 2011). An estimated 4.3 million civilians have fled their homes, and many more remain displaced in the war-torn country. Only half of all public health services remain functional, and many people still living in Yemen are at risk of communicable diseases (Winter, 2011). The presence of unabated conflict, poor governance, lawlessness and gross violations of human rights might exacerbate existing conditions if an effective response plan is not developed (Winter, 2011). This Master of Philosophy will perform a study on the appropriateness of reinforcing local governance structures in Yemen. This objective will be accomplished by discussing the potential role of local governance in Yemen, potential impediments, limitations, and expected benefits.
Opportunities for local governance
In an environment where public services have become dormant, state institutions have collapsed, and civilian livelihoods lie in uncertainty local government can play crucial roles in peacekeeping and humanitarian response (Carpenter, Slater, and Mallett, 2012).The efforts will go a long way in alleviating the effects of the war on the population. For instance, local governments can mediate ceasefire agreements between armed militants and the community, facilitate the development of safe routes for the entry of humanitarian aid into the community, supervise distribution of relief services, and maintain a semblance of peace in the community. Prolonged conflict has intensified sectarian divisions in Yemen. Furthermore, there is deep-seated regional mistrust, which impedes national cohesion.
Local governance is an essential driver of peace and recovery in fragile conflict-riddled nations. Although building capacity in local governments is not expected to bring about political reconciliation or facilitate national negotiations, without a stable local government, even the best peace agreements can unravel (Garrigue, 2016). Local governments can create public awareness within their communities and diminish sources of support for the conflict, which should foster future national stability. Conflict in Yemen has partly been fuelled by a failure by the previous regime to pursue efforts to decentralize governance structures and promote democratic local governments. Thus transforming local governments should broaden political participation, ensure the incorporation of minority views into policymaking, and prevent the re-emergence of an authoritarian regime. In addition, local leaders can facilitate reconciliation and address the cause of conflict from its root.
Prospects of political resolution of the conflict in Yemen remain dim. Local governments are the country’s only hope of preventing the eventual collapse of economic, humanitarian, social, and security apparatus in the country. The absence of local government structures compounds efforts to raise public awareness, enhance community peace, deliver relief services through conflict hot-spots, and prevent the collapse of social services (Carpenter et al., 2012). Local governments can assess potential conflict situations, de-escalate violent situations, and preserve the social fabric within the community. Local governments around the nation can utilize their vibrant social and political networks within the community to build capacity for peace and reconciliation. If they can perform this function effectively, then there will be enhanced stability at the grassroots and ultimately in the entire nation.
Experiences from other post-conflict environments show that governments formed after prolonged periods of conflict are incredibly weak and vulnerable. The presence of large scale destruction may overwhelm an economically incapacitated government’s efforts to rebuild (Jackson and Scott, 2007). This scenario may be exacerbated by incessant citizen complaints and expectations of massive improvements within a short period of time (Jackson and Scott, 2007). In some parts of Yemen, local authorities are practically crippled due to a lack of resources and dominance from Houthi Militants (Winter, 2011).
Most local government structures in Yemen have collapsed and will require rebuilding. In the northern parts of Yemen, where tribal influence is particularly rampant, local government activities have remained unabated by a lack of resources as they represent tribal entities. However, in the south, where a more civic structure previously prevailed, most local governments affiliated with the GPC or al-Islah parties have collapsed (Winter, 2011). In these parts, civilians mainly rely on civil society groups and humanitarian organization for services. Reconstituting local governments in areas where Houthi militants have frozen local governance activities, under the pretext of purging the community of former regime sympathizers, will be also be extremely difficult (Winter, 2011).
Ineffective local governments can also become the drivers of conflict and escalation of violence in Yemen. Domination of political positions by one group creates a marginalized society that is likely to respond to divisive politics, incitements, and propaganda. Local elections can exacerbate civil divisions if political leaders capitalize on existing divisions to gather votes. Exclusion of marginalized groups can stimulate grievances, fuel conflict situations, accentuate intergroup differences, encourage sectarian alliances, and create frustration within the community. These effects could result in violence and escalation of conflict. Yemen national authorities are notorious for propagating discriminatory practices such as favoritism within local and regional administrations. Interference from the national government often leads to corruption, which is a powerful catalyst for inequality, and eventually creates conflict. Local governments are also incredibly vulnerable to financial appropriation, disruption, and intimidation by armed militants. Finally, poor decision making within the local government can facilitate a culture of seeking political reprieve through armed resistance and violence.
It remains vital to transform local governments to build capacity for local, regional, and national reconciliatory and peace-building efforts. In areas where local governments remain operational, they have become an invaluable aid to humanitarian and peace building efforts. IN areas where they have been paralyzed, rebuilding can provide security and social services which should stabilize fragile communities. Despite their potential limitations, it is crucial to explore this area of governance as it should prevent eventual economic collapse and facilitate humanitarian assistance.