Writing a book about the prospects of post-war Yemen might seem naive to some, or at least premature, considering that the conflict raging on since 2015 presents no sign of abating. In fact, the last weeks have seen some of the most intense fighting since the start of the war. The Houthi rebels — who control areas comprising three-quarters of the Yemeni population— are currently in the midst of a full-scale attack against the oil-rich Marib province.
The Houthis’ attempts at controlling this province will not come easy, as they are being confronted by the military forces of the internationally recognized government of Yemen, local militias, and the Saudi-led military coalition. Even if the pivotal battle for Marib were to conclude with the Houthis in control of the territory and its natural resources, it is difficult to imagine how this could lead to a swift end to the war without a negotiation process.
In ‘Building a New Yemen: Recovery, Transition and the International Community,’ edited by Amat Al Alim Alsoswa and Noel Brehony, some of the most prominent scholars on the Southern Arabian country come together to think about the challenges that Yemen will tackle at the end of the conflict and how to face them. The editors recruited a balanced group of Yemeni and non-Yemeni contributors.
The authors present a strong case on why it is appropriate to plan for a post-war future still difficult to envisage.
The authors present a strong case on why it is appropriate to plan for a post-war future still difficult to envisage. The policies recommended by the contributors will be essential regardless of how much time needs to pass before the conflict comes to its end. Moreover, some of the recommendations could already be implemented in the relatively peaceful areas of the country. The reader will most likely end up agreeing with Amat Al Alim Alsoswa in that “the long-term development of Yemen requires thinking beyond its immediate needs, important as they are.”
Several threads tie the ten chapters of the edited volume together. An emergent common theme is that none of the authors consider a unified, centralized political structure for Yemen likely or desirable. Stephen Day, an authority on the regional dynamics of Yemen, asserts that if Yemen had been unified on a federal basis in 1990, the last three decades of Yemeni history would have been more peaceful.
In government-controlled areas, local authorities have gained power during the war, and this change in dynamics has generally been welcomed by local public opinion. However, a federal structure for Yemen would not come without its challenges. It should “maintain a thread of national coherence and coordination across the different governorates,” while endowing the regions with enough autonomy and capacity to lead development processes and provide services.
Even more contentious than the competences to be attributed to the regions are their very own borders. Yemen could end up divided into two federated entities along similar lines to the North-South division in place until 1990, but other options— such as the federation of a larger Houthi-controlled northern territory with several southern and eastern political entities— are by no means far-fetched. The situation is complicated by pronounced geographical imbalances in several key economic sectors, particularly the concentration of oil and gas reserves in the eastern and southern governorates.
These natural resources may alleviate the dire humanitarian conditions in Yemen if the war ends and exports return to pre-war levels. This possibility notwithstanding, the various contributors addressing Yemen’s economic challenges in the edited volume concur that the country will need to diversify its sources of income to provide a decent standard of living to its population.
In this vein, Charles Schmitz notes that the heart of economic growth in Yemen must not be “natural resources but labor productivity.” This will presuppose a capable state that encourages the investment of capital by foreign investors, the diasporic population, and Yemenis living in the country. At the same time, the role of agriculture, traditionally the main sector in Yemen’s economy, will be of paramount importance.
Irrigated agriculture has experienced exponential growth in the country, resulting in the depletion of water tables.
During the last few decades, irrigated agriculture has experienced exponential growth in the country, resulting in the depletion of water tables. James Firebrace and Alia Eshaq suggest investing in water optimization technologies, introducing new plant varieties, and revitalizing rain-fed terraces that have suffered from lack of maintenance. According to Helen Lackner, rain-fed agriculture needs to be prioritized since “this will have a major impact on poverty reduction.”
When approaching the necessary conditions for the success of peace talks in Yemen, various authors in the volume emphasize the importance of inclusion. Laurent Bonnefoy remarks that restricting the framework of negotiations to the Houthis and the internationally recognized government is a recipe for failure. He notes that the Southern Movement needs to be included, together with regional actors, a point also made by Hussein Alwaday and Maysaa Shujaa Al-Deen.
Furthermore, as has been established by many studies, for peace-building efforts to succeed, women need to be part of these processes, which has not been the case so far. However, when it comes to groups that cannot be engaged in peace negotiations, namely Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), only an end to the war will constrain their opportunities to thrive.
As is normally the case in edited volumes, those who read the book in its entirety will come across some redundancy in the factual content of the chapters. Nevertheless, this problem is skillfully minimized by the editors, in great part due to the introductory chapter where they present an overview of Yemen’s history and the development of the current war.
‘Building a New Yemen’ is a remarkable work that should be read beyond the academic community. The edited volume contains powerful lessons for aid organizations, diplomats, and UN institutions. If peace is to be sustainable when achieved, it cannot be accompanied by the old mistakes that led to the conflict in the first place. At its core, ‘Building a New Yemen’ asserts that Yemen and its relations with the international community must be re-imagined for positive change to occur after the war’s end.
 Alsoswa, Amat. “The Role of the International Community and the GCC Countries in the Economic Development of Yemen,” in Building a New Yemen: Recovery, Transition and the International Community, edited by Amat Al Alim Alsoswa and Noel Brehony (London: I.B. Tauris, 2021), p. 169.
 Stephen Day, “The Future Structure of the Yemen State,” in Ibid., p. 41.
 Rafat Al-Akhali, “Post-Conflict Economic Recovery and Development in Yemen,” in Ibid., p. 145.
 Ibid., p. 153.
 James Firebrace and Alia Eshaq, “Getting Yemen Working: Rethinking Economic Priorities to Deliver Long-Term Peace and Stability,” in Ibid., p. 194.
 Charles Schmitz, “A Parasitical Political Economy,” in Ibid., p. 124.
 Firebrace and Eshaq, “Getting Yemen Working: Rethinking Economic Priorities to Deliver Long-Term Peace and Stability,” in Ibid., pp. 201-202.
 Helen Lackner, “The Future of Yemeni Agriculture and Water,” in Ibid., p. 188.
 Laurent Bonnefoy, “Yemen and the International Community: Fragmented Approaches,” in Ibid., p. 31.
 Hussein Alwaday and Maysaa Shujaa Al-Deen, “Sectarianism, Tribalism and the Rise of the Huthis,” in Ibid., p. 67.
 Bilkis Zabara and Sabria Al-Thawr, “The Role of Women in Post-Conflict Yemen,” in Ibid., p. 107.
 Joana Cook, “AQAP and Governance in Yemen: Post-Conflict Considerations,” in Ibid., p. 89.