A Real Opportunity for Yemen

On 30 November 1967, British forces left Aden after 130 years for the last time. That date marked the end of Britain’s colonial relationship with Yemen, and we have no intention of coming back.

By Tim Torlot (MIDDLE EAST)

Published: Fri 29 Jan 2010, 10:29 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:42 AM

Since that time, the relationship between Yemen and the United Kingdom has had its ups and downs. In the past few years, however, it has gone from strength to strength. But there is still a good deal of suspicion that we have some sort of hidden agenda.

I have seen reports in the Yemeni media and elsewhere that we are planning to redivide the country, or recolonise, or open military bases, or invade! All are nonsense. Our modern relationship brings together two sovereign and independent states. We do not interfere in each other’s affairs. But in so many areas, our interests overlap, and we work together as friends and partners.

That is a good thing. In the modern world, we all need to co-operate to solve problems that affect all of us – climate change, which threatens Yemen’s precious and scarce water supplies, the global economic situation, which has a huge impact on the world price of your most valuable resources – oil and gas. And of course terrorism, which threatens to destroy your economy and undermine the foundations of your society. The Yemeni government and people cannot alone solve those problems. They need the support and co-operation of friends and partners, in Yemen and on the world stage. That is why the Yemeni and British governments have worked so closely together to arrange the high-level meeting in London on Thursday. And I mean together.

Less than one hour after I heard about the idea for the event, I was on the phone to the Yemeni Foreign Minister to discuss the framework for the meeting and our shared objectives. We, and other members of the Yemeni government, have been co-operating closely ever since. We have not imposed an agenda or forced discussion.

The Yemeni Prime Minister set the tone and the focus of the meeting, and discussion revolved around two Yemeni working papers, covering the country’s development needs for state-building, stability and security.

Britain’s support for Yemen is growing year on year. Over 90 per cent of that support is targeted at the development needs of the people of Yemen – the long-term future of the country. We give substantial financial assistance to the Social Fund for Development for projects that provide much needed jobs and basic services to local communities. We have a big programme of support for education. A new programme, worth YER 2.9 billion, is aimed directly at strengthening Yemen’s private sector, to make it easier for businesses to start up and grow, and provide much needed jobs for ordinary people.

And we are working quietly but ceaselessly to encourage others to support Yemen’s developmental challenges. The major London summit in 2006 brought promises of massive new economic support from Yemen’s Gulf neighbours. One of the challenges is to examine how we can work together to speed up the delivery of those pledges, and to ensure that aid is used effectively to support the real needs of the people of Yemen.

We are setting out to reach a common understanding of the key challenges facing Yemen, and to give greater impetus to political and economic reform, including urgent and concrete action by the Government of Yemen. We believe that Yemen’s problems, including security and instability, can be resolved only by a comprehensive set of measures to strengthen the economy, provide education and jobs, improve services and effective social support for the poor, and provide security and fair, transparent and comprehensive rule of law.

To achieve this, Yemen needs the support of its friends in the international community. We must work better, too, to ensure our assistance truly meets the needs of the Yemeni people and is delivered in a timely and co-ordinated way. The London meeting gives us all the opportunity to do just that.

Tim Torlot is Britain’s Ambassador in Sana’a, Yemen

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