Civil society groups are critical actors in Yemen’s stuttering process of democratic reform. Yet the poverty-ridden country is, some analysts suggest, approaching failed state status and this week’s attempted suicide-bombing assassination of the UK Ambassador to Sana highlights the continuing terrorist threat.
Yemen enjoys a plethora of non-governmental organizations, addressing a wide range of issues, from poverty-alleviation to women’s empowerment. Some analysts suggest that NGOs have been too readily coopted by the regime, while activists have lamented the lack of a coherent vision and strategy for determining civil society’s contribution to a democratic reform agenda, a weakness that prompted this week’s meeting of Yemeni NGOs supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Activists have also criticized the disproportionate amount of resources and attention lavished on large mainstream NGOs or those enjoying high-profile international sponsorship while more authentic, locally-based grass-roots groups are neglected. Yemen also has its fair share of government-organized NGOs or GONGOs which attract a disturbingly high level of funding and which often occupy political space at the expense of genuinely independent groups.
But the NED takes a different approach, says Rahman Aljebouri, its Senior Program Officer for Middle East and North Africa.
“Our support will not be restricted to some famous organizations; we will support whichever organization that has a program to implement, which identifies what will enhance a real development in Yemen,” Aljebouri says.
This week’s conference, arranged in association with the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, aims to enhance cooperation between Yemeni NGOs. NED is sharing its experience, including civil society networking in Iraq, to help Yemeni NGOs gain insights and build capacity.