Chairman's Report 2018

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

Twenty-fifth Annual General Meeting

Introduction

It has been yet another difficult year for Yemen as the summary of the current situation at the end of this report shows.  A recent report commissioned by the UNDP estimates that over 233,000 people have died as a result of the war, 102,000 of them in combat and the rest from the impact on the war on “lack of food, healthcare and infrastructure”.   The prospects of it ending soon are not good. We do what we can to relieve the situation.  Our appeal for funds has enabled us to donate just over £30,000 to MSF and the Yemen Red Crescent ( £15,000) each and in the last year we have also given another £3,200 to the Ras Morbat Eye Clinic. The fund-raising event this evening will raise more money.   As noted below there has been a considerable upsurge in media coverage on Yemen and a consequent increase in the number of events looking at what is going on and what can be done to end the war and bring humanitarian relief.  We contribute to this by our own lectures, the journal, and by the writings and comments of members of the B-YS. Our editor Helen Lackner is particularly active.

The committee

I am standing down as Chair having returned to the position last year until we could identify a longer-term candidate for the position.  I am delighted that Noel Guckian has agreed to stand.  He brings a wealth of experience and has been a member of the committee for the last year to familiarise himself with the B-YS and its activities. Our long serving secretary, Audrey Allfree is also standing down as foreshadowed in the last report.  She thoroughly deserves the thanks of all B-YS members and the many others that interact with the society for her efficiency, calmness and charm. Ibrahim Zanta, who has been our Events Secretary for the last few months, has agreed to stand as her successor.  Ibrahim has been a key figure in organising the fundraising event that will follow the AGM. Robert Wilson, our previous chairman, has agreed to remain as membership secretary. I would like to thank   Boris Kilgarriff who has acted as the committee secretary for the last few months. We have an excellent treasurer in John Huggins, who also ensures that our procedures and actions are in line with our obligations to the Charity Commission.

Last August the committee had a strategy meeting to take a longer term look at the B-YS.  We agreed that we want to attract more members, especially younger ones, to carry out more activities and reach out more to the British Yemeni community outside London.  As part of that process we are nominating as members of the committee Awssan Kamal from Oxfam, Marwa Baabbad from the Oxford Research Group and Dr Hamdan Dammag, a poet , author and activist based in Sheffield. Audrey has agreed to stay on to help with continuity, and Sarah Clowry, a Ph D student at Durham is proposed as a student member. Two or our most active members, Muhammad bin Dohry and Adel Aulaqi, are retiring from the committee.  I would like to thank them both for all their untiring efforts for the B-YS. I would like to all members of the committee for their support over the last year.

New books on Yemen.

Laurent Bonnefoy,  Yemen and the world, beyond insecurity (Hurst)

Gabriele Vom Bruck, Mirrored Loss: A Yemeni Woman's Life Story  (Hurst)

Nathalie Peutz,  Islands of Heritage Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen,  (Stanford University Press)

David Nott,  War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line (Picador)

Tim Mackintosh–Smith:  Arabs: A 3,000 Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires,  Yale University Press  March 2019.

Helen Lackner,  'Yemen in Crisis, the road to war' (Verso, 2019), US Paperback updated version of 'Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State' (Saqi, London, 2017) for which she won the 2018 'Grand Prix de la Recherche' section of the 'Grand Prix of Literary Associations'

There have been fewer books this year but an abundance of shorter articles and reports on Yemen, many now being written not by foreign researchers but by the growing number of Yemenis in Yemen and abroad now analysing their country, its problems and suggesting solutions ahead. The Sanaa Centre produces a stream of reports and its monthly Yemen Review gives comprehensive account of current events (http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/).

B-YS Grant

Disappointingly, there were no applications for the B-YS grant by the 31 May deadline, but we are leaving this open.  This may reflect the fact that it is much more difficult for research students to visit the country, but the award scheme is open to anyone studying an aspect of Yemen in any British or Yemeni institution.  We would encourage all members to spread the word about the award.

Website and Facebook Page

We continue to attract new members on the Facebook page but would like to see many more of these joining the society. However, Facebook is a good way of communicating with the wider community and with Yemenis in Yemen and the diaspora.  It receives a spike in visits when events information is published. Twitter lags behind.  Twitter automatically tweets Facebook posts to B-YS page, but we need to have a permanent volunteer focusing on Twitter. Google Analytics shows that most visits to website come from London.

The B-YS Journal

This is a jewel in our crown. The 2019 edition will be published in the autumn.  I want to thank Helen Lackner, our distinguished editor, for all the time and energy she devotes to the journal.

Membership

There have been 21 new members since the last AGM. The committee is looking at ways of involving more people outside London. I am delighted that Hamdan Dammag is joining the committee and will join Taher Qassim in helping to extend our reach within the wider  British-Yemeni community.

Yemen related events

We previously listed these but there have been so many in the past year that we will not be listing them.  A number have taken place outside London, notably in Sheffield, Leeds, Durham, Birmingham and Exeter.

Political situation  up to 10 June 2019

External pressure to find a negotiated solution to the conflict for Hodeida ( and Saleef and Ras Isa ports) led to the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018, which focused on negotiations that would ease the humanitarian situation through troop withdrawals by both sides and confidence building measures such as an exchange of prisoners.  There was a vague commitment to starting discussions to relieve the situation in Taiz and there were plans later that might lead to solving the problems related to the Central Bank.  

Progress in implementation has been very slow in part because of the agreement’s ambiguous  wording and the way that each side has interpreted it. The scale of distrust  between them is just too high. It took nearly four months of effort by UNSG’s Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and his team, and a lot of pressure from the international community, including the UK ( Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary urged the parties to find a way out “from the last chance saloon”) before the force withdrawals began. Even then a dispute over which “local authority” would take over the running of the port threatened to derail the agreement.  The indefatigable envoy has started to encounter criticism over alleged bias – which has been firmly rejected by the UN Secretary General and the UK. An attack on Hodeida is still an option for the coalition even though as a result of Huthi reinforcements the scale, longevity, destruction and casualties would be so great that it would face the strongest protest from the international community.  

Militarily, the situation remains in stalemate. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia have made some progress in Sa’ada province, the Huthi heartland, but the kingdom has faced attacks over the border in Najran and Jizan;  drones were used to attack pumping stations on the East-West oil pipeline.  The Huthis launched in May a new offensive on a key route on the old PDRY-YAR border – in an area from which some of the militias fighting for the coalition near Hodeida are drawn – possibly in a move to force them back to defend their home areas.  Elsewhere the frontlines are static.

Victory for either side will remain elusive.  Meanwhile ordinary Yemenis will continue to suffer the already dire consequences. Those running the war seem indifferent to this suffering. International pressure will thus have to be maintained even if the Khashoqji killing,   which helped changed the dynamics, is now being overlooked ( if not forgotten),  as the Trump Administration increases pressure on Iran over its policies in the region.

The Huthis main international supporter, Iran, does not apply any countervailing pressure.  The latest UN Panel of Experts report assessed that the Huthis have been using sophisticated weapons systems but that these are now “increasingly relying on the import of high-value components, which are then integrated into locally assembled systems.” The drones are an example such as the one used in an attack on a military parade that killed some senior Yemeni military officers.  Reliable evidence – some cited in the UN Panel of Experts reports – shows that fuel originating from Iran is being imported to Yemen via third party businessmen - some based in the GCC.  This, of course, enables the Huthis to make money from its redistribution and sale. The regrettable facts are that people on both sides of this conflict benefit from smuggling and other aspects of the wear economy and this created vested interests in the continuations of the fighting.

The term two sides needs qualifying: there is a growing number of local groups of various strengths that are mostly ostensibly loyal to President Hadi. The Huthis seem to be able to exercise much tighter control of the area they control and deal with opposition ruthlessly.  An example of this was the well documented attack in tribes in the Hajour area of Sa’ada that have been neutral but might have been in the process of transferring their loyalty to the coalition. 

In the liberated area the government of President Hadi struggles to impose its authority in the face of these local groups. The most powerful is the Southern Transition Council (STC) which has grown in strength and confidence and seeks to present itself as a southern regime-in-waiting. Its leader Aydarus Zubaidi visited London to mobilise support for a demand that the STC is included in the next stage of the UN-led peace process.  Martin Griffiths is aware of this but will need to find a mechanism that includes all southern voices and takes account of President Hadi’s  concerns. Not all southerners  support the STC – there are at least seven other southern organisations - whilst in Shabwah, Hadhramaut and Al Mahra  local leaders want above all else a high degree of decentralisation in any new political entity based in Sana‘a or Aden.

The STC clearly enjoys support from the UAE, which has followed a policy of working through local groups and militias that it identifies, recruits, trains, equips and pays.  Relations between the UAE and the Hadi government are often strained. Islah remains anathema to the UAE which will not work with this party in the south or in Taiz – despite the fact that Saudi Arabia needs Islah for its war in the north.  This and other differences  in local tactics lead some analysts to suggest that this could lead to problems between the Saudi and UAE leaders.   

Al Mahra may be one the least populated and most remote part of Yemen but the arrival of Saudi forces in the governorate in late 2017 ostensibly to prevent smuggling of Iranian weapons across its land and sea borders has created tensions both with some Al Mahra tribes and Oman, which has long seen the region as an important buffer on its western border. Tensions are also visible on Socotra.

Economic difficulties. There are several economies in Yemen: national, Hadi, Huthi and many local, most notably in Marib. Mixed within these are the war economies often involving people from different sides benefiting from the fighting – and thus having a vested interest in its continuation. 

GDP is probably less than half of what it was at the start of the crisis. The weakness and volatility of the Yemeni riyal have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and pushed the cost of food and other basic goods out of reach of rapidly growing numbers of ordinary Yemenis. The situation has eased somewhat in 2019  - one factor being the $2 billion deposit by Saudi Arabia and the $570 million contribution paid by Saudi Arabia and the UAE  to tackle food security and pay teachers’ salaries. The fundamental problem is the fight over the Central Bank of Yemen between the two rival governing authorities that prompts each to try and exert control and undermine the policies of the other.  Importers of vital food and commodities complain that they are caught in the tug-of-war between the two sides.

The Hadi government will earn more in 2019 from oil and gas exports and savings made on fuel imports; it hopes to produce 110,000 barrels of oil a day in 2019 and export 75,000 barrels a day, which could bring in about $1.7 billion in export earnings.  One positive development is spending by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on development projects which create jobs and income though there needs to be less emphasis on publicising the assistance and more on the detail of getting projects delivered.   It seems that most government staff in the Hadi area are being paid but the International Crisis Group pointed out that “ the government is prioritising salary payments to the military and security services, which have been the only employers creating new jobs since the war began.”  

The Huthis have improved their ability to make money by acquiring a near monopoly over fuel distribution in northern Yemen. They apply pressure for the payment of their taxes, squeezed the mobile phone operators and seized some of the assets of ex-President Saleh. Whilst they can raise money to pay for the war, they are unable to pay civil servants (most do get occasional payments but well below their nominal salaries) and to provide good government services.  Increasing military pressure on the Huthis from the coalition could put much greater strains on their ability to manage the economy.

AQAP and Daesh. Estimates of the number of AQAP fighters runs between 5,000 and 10,000 but few of these are active at any particular time and the lines are blurred between hard core AQAP and  some local militias.  AQAP may still have substantial financial resources acquired from its period of partial control of Mukalla in 2015-2016. However, the number of terrorist attacks fell in 2018 thanks to the actions of coalition-trained counter terrorist forces and other measures that have had the effect of detaching the less ideologically committed elements of AQAP into militias paid to fight for President Hadi and the UAE. Such moves are seen as controversial in the US and UK but seem the right tactics to use – pragmatically  as a means of weakening AQAP -  as long as steps are taken to prevent these groups returning to AQAP later on.  The AQAP leadership retains the ambition but lacks the capacity to launch operations outside Yemen apart from using the internet to urge lone wolves to attack local targets in their home areas: 36 drone strikes were launched  in 2018 against AQAP and Daesh.

Humanitarian relief.  The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is now well known – the UK media has finally started to notice it.  International demands that the coalition takes more effective steps to end it are increasing. UN officials said that the situation in 2019 was worse than 2018. About 24 million people, or approximately 80 per cent of the population, are now in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, with some 20 million people — half of them a step away from famine — requiring help to secure food. Almost 20 million people have no access to adequate health care, nearly 18 million lack sufficient clean water or access to adequate sanitation, and more than 3 million — including 2 million children — are acutely malnourished. The scale of coalition support to the humanitarian relief programmes is high and is acknowledged by Western governments and international agencies. All must now focus on ending this conflict.

 

Report year: 
2018