Reweaving the broken fabric: Can civil society actors help policymakers respond to diversity in Yemen?
Lussier, Kattie; Fakher, Mohammed (2016). 'Reweaving the broken fabric: Can civil society actors help policymakers respond to diversity in Yemen?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.
Policy related decisions are greatly influenced by the quality of information available to policy actors (Carden, 2009). Development policies, in particular, should respond to the needs of all people. Yet, in a country as diverse as the Republic of Yemen, significant segments of the population have often been excluded from policy spaces. Tribal and sectarian diversity, for instance, is easily overlooked when addressing questions of well-being and justice. In a country where tribes play a crucial role in promoting the welfare of their members, it appears essential for policymakers to pay attention to diversity if stability is ever to come back to the country. Before the onset of the war, there were around 10,000 civils society organisations (CSOs) registered with Yemen's Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and, although they reached most sectors of the population, most of them were perceived as being inactive (ICLN, 2015). The proposed paper aims to critically discuss the role that civil society actors can play in supporting policymakers in the elaboration, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies that take into consideration the diversity of Yemeni people and better respond to the needs of traditionally excluded groups. This article is based on an exploratory case study conducted in Sanaa between January and July 2015. Primary data includes 24 semi-structured interviews with key Yemeni policymakers, civil society actors and researchers in academic institutions and two focus group discussions with Yemeni civil society actors engaged in policy-relevant research (YPRI). This information is complemented by secondary data from both governmental and international sources. More specifically, the paper will discuss the role that civil society actors play in the public policy landscape of Yemen, the challenges they face in their interactions with policymakers, and the contribution they can make to a more inclusive policy process in Yemen.
The study revealed that even before the war, Yemeni civil society actors played a very limited role in influencing the policy arena and were mainly engaged in providing services to their respective target groups. However, the situation improved following the 2011 youth movement where different spaces were created to engage them in the national dialogue and other initiatives thus contributing to give them a voice, albeit not an influential one. Instances where YPRIs have managed to influence policy, are still rare and usually mediated by international organisations. While the ongoing war has put a halt to all policy discussions, there is an agreement between all the parties involved in the research that civil society actors can play a significant role in helping the government to understand better the situation on the ground, identify Yemeni people's real needs and aspirations, and provide the information required to shape social and development policies at the end of the conflict. As such, respondents said that CSOs should be more engaged in policy-related discussions and the knowledge produced by YPRI better disseminated. Most of the interviewed policymakers believe that if YPRI had sufficient capacities, they could present an opportunity to understand community needs, address the issues and problems more efficiently, as well as reduce time, efforts and costs. Some policymakers, however, appear to expect from YPRIs that they support the government's view unconditionally which could prevent the production of sound and reliable knowledge. Moreover, our fieldwork revealed a serious lack of trust between CSOs and policymakers. Just like the Yemeni society, CSOs are rather heterogeneous. Their great diversity in terms of capacity, affiliations and inclusiveness, affect their credibility which, added to communication challenges, limits their influence in the policy spaces. This is exacerbated by a widespread opinion that CSOs are not neutral and serve the interests of international actors more than the interest of their country.
So far, CSOs have not been involved in the monitoring and evaluation of any national policies. The authors believe that this is a missed opportunity since CSOs provide a vast network across the country and could help to improve the extent to which policies can increase the capabilities of Yemen's diverse population. In order to make a meaningful contribution, CSOs participation must go beyond tokenistic consultation and space must be created to enable them to engage meaningfully in the public policy process. The importance of such involvement comes from Yemen's government limited access and lack of influence in some parts of the country, compared to CSOs/YPRI who are on the ground with easy access to many areas and target groups. In this regard, the researchers believe that the engagement of the Yemeni CSOs in public policy making requires a political and administrative will from the Yemeni government. Efforts need to be made to ensure a comprehensive, persistent, open and transparent dialogue between the Yemeni government and the civil society. Our findings also highlight the importance of ensuring the inclusion of the entire range of stakeholders into the dialogue process. Again, this will require significant efforts from both sides to enhance their credibility and deal effectively with issues of affiliations in order to develop mutual understanding and slowly bridge the existing gap in trust. The conflict in Yemen has torn apart the country's already fragile social fabric. It is the authors' view that it cannot be mend without an active commitment of civil society actors.