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Why Yemen is still in a mess despite months of peace talks

August 11, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Last Saturday, the UN Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced an end to the peace talks in Kuwait, saying that there will be a one-month pause to “crystallise precise technical details” by working with each side of the conflict separately.

The fact of the matter is that the peace talks do not need to be paused to give the delegates space to gather themselves; they have ended in this way because they were not built on solid foundations to start with. When the talks began over three months ago, I analysed the way in which they were carried out and explained why, even in the early stages, it was clear that we should not expect much from them.

It was obvious that the delegates were not there to find a solution for lasting peace, but to hold on to the most power. The fact that they were present without a clear motivation to work with each other and end the violence meant that they were still working against each other, but on a diplomatic front in the full view of the international community.

Local actors were not addressed, even though they are central not only to the conflict, but also to the wider Yemeni socio-political system. Yemen’s tribal systems and the growing importance of local governance make it significantly harder to govern through centralised institutions, which means that the parties in the peace talks do not represent the vast majority of Yemenis. Elitism is a typical fatal error when it comes to conflict resolution and Yemen’s peace talks have fallen prey to it.

There was also a financial crisis at that stage. The Central Bank of Yemen had $4 billion “missing” in May. It has tried to remain neutral in the conflict and paid fighters on both sides of the war, but being in Sana’a, it has been subject to Houthi and Saleh influence and coercion. At this point, the crisis with the Central Bank is deepening with the Hadi government, which has announced openly its mistrust in the management of the bank and requested that the IMF selects an international auditing firm to investigate the missing funds and oversee its management. The government has also suspended dealings with Mohammed Awad Bin Humam, the Governor of the Central Bank. These rifts have deepened since the start of the peace talks, but have not been addressed properly by those in Kuwait.

Throughout the talks, there have been no signs of the military situation stabilising. Just last week, Houthi and Saleh forces succeeded in capturing Haifan in Taiz after a fierce battle. This has come at a time in which the Taiz resistance is weakening resource-wise because the Hadi government is failing to fund it, which is leaving room for extremists to take advantage of the anti-Houthi/Saleh operation. Upon the peace talks grinding to a halt, coalition air strikes began to target Sana’a fiercely. While the Hadi government is still in exile, the Houthis and Saleh have formed a coalition government in the form of a “Supreme Council”, solidifying further their political alliance. The President of the Houthi-formed Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Al Houthi, has pledged to dedicate 1bn riyals to restore Saleh’s Republican Guard. Whether this pledge materialises or not, it is evident that the conditions that are needed to ease the conflict are deteriorating.

There is also the element of increasing mistrust towards the talks in general by a proportion of the Yemeni population. Not only is it becoming more evident that the Hadi government is losing influence on the ground, making the opposition to Houthi and Saleh atrocities both in the peace talks and outside weaker and more fragmented, but there is also the fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s increasingly direct role in the talks has perpetuated a further loss in confidence. A lack of trust in the UN’s ability to restore peace has increased as the UN Envoy to Yemen met the former dictator to discuss the future, when Saleh’s main interest is undoubtedly to regain absolute control.

Palpably speaking, the peace talks are not synchronised with the situation on the ground. Delegates are ignoring the reality that their country is slowly falling deeper into violence and poverty and, in the case of these talks, the further that they have been stretched out fruitlessly, the worse the situation has become. For real progress in resolving the conflict, situations on the ground that have a genuine effect on the stability and security in Yemen must first be addressed, without the consultation of parties that only seek to regain as much absolute power as is possible to attain.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.