The improvements to infrastructure, education and economic diversification that Yemen proposes over the next five years are promising. But given its track record, its promises are only worth so much.
Yemen needs aid and tough love from its friends
Yemen says that it needs $44 billion over the next five years to begin to solve its problems. The country made the pitch at a conference with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on Sunday. The GCC responded by pledging more than $3 billion. That amount, in combination with separate donations from Saudi Arabia, comprises roughly 10 per cent of the total amount Yemen seeks. The GCC made a similar pledge in 2006 but only about 10 per cent was ever delivered. What has happened since in Yemen has shown that its neighbours have a stake in its security. This time, the GCC must adopt a more hands on approach. It cannot simply hand over money and expect Yemen to solve its own problems. History has shown that it either cannot or will not. The Gulf countries also have a responsibility to ensure that the money is not misappropriated if they want it to do some good; Yemen's corrupt bureaucracy has a habit of making aid disappear.
Yemen may not be completely satisfied with the response of Gulf nations to its pleas for help but it also cannot be very surprised. Its president Ali Abdullah Salih has spent more of his energies keeping himself in power than addressing the grievances of Yemen's diverse citizenry. He must be prevented from diverting vast quantities of money from the public treasury to buy the loyalty of power brokers as he has done before.
At times, Mr Salih's efforts to bolster his mandate have exacerbated the simmering tensions. His patronage of rival groups to play one against another backfired horribly in the case of the Houthi rebels, with whom he recently signed a peace treaty. Now, the South is once again demanding independence. Fires appear to flare up faster than they can be extinguished in Yemen. It is natural for any nation to hesitate before getting involved in that turmoil.
But as Yemen's problems begin to spill across its borders, it has become evident that the international community, and Gulf nations in particular, must intervene in order to save Yemen from itself. From Shiite militants engaging in cross border raids into Saudi Arabia to Yemen-trained terrorists attempting to blow up American airliners, Yemen should not have to demonstrate yet again how its own instability threatens global security.
The improvements to infrastructure, education and economic diversification that Yemen proposes over the next five years are promising. But given its track record, its promises are only worth so much. If Yemen seeks additional commitment from others it must also demonstrate its own resolve to make its own promises become a reality. And although it is encouraging that the GCC has invested in Yemen's recovery, it also has a role to play in ensuring that this investment bears fruit.