By Khaled Hussein Ghalib
The situation in south Yemen is escalated again last week in a new spark of rebellion against the government of the country. International news reports cast their attention on the government’s besiege around a purported AQAP stronghold, which was carried out following perpetual acts of violence against the government from all over the south.
Local analysts and international observers call on a political settlement between the government, which is dominated by the northern representatives on one side, and exasperated southerners on the other.
However, the structural, economic and demographic problems of Yemen might be beyond the capabilities of the government, according to analysts. It is not AQAP which the government and donors should be concentrating on – two other looming crises over shadow the gravity of a deteriorating security situation.
Both crises are twinned, inexorably intertwined; one is unemployment, and the other the boom in population. They both threaten of a sense of hopelessness and pessimism for Yemen’s fragile future.
In premises of the two offices in the capital Sana’a, twenty Yemeni young people sit in a circle to discuss their future. All of them are in their twenties and university degree holders. Despite their enthusiasm and education achievements, most of them are unemployed.
While these young graduates from the professional training program, directed by Yemen Foundation for Training for Employment, talked optimistically about their hopes of finding a job that is rewarding personally and financially, frustration was apparent on their faces for not achieving any success in this area.
One of these is a civil engineering graduate, who applied for a job in almost all the engineering firms in the capital. However, he could not find any training opportunities.
After being repeatedly turned down, the students describe themselves as devastated, pessimistic and disappointed.
Ma’een Al-Iryani, Chairman of the Yemen Foundation for Training for Employment, said that while the rate of unemployment in Yemen is shocking for observers – 35%, the reality is even harder on the youths themselves.
He said, “Our estimations indicate that the rate of unemployment among the youth we deal with, whose ages range between 18 and 28, is around 50%.”
The graduates of Yemen Foundation for Training for Employment have received specialized training in English language, computer skills, which university graduates usually lack, and many of them will find a job within a few months of the end of the program, a chance only a few Yemenis have.
At a short distance from the place of the foundation, more than 100 young people in overalls are waiting at the crossroads, hoping that contractors would select them for work on construction projects around the capital.
Nouf, aged 27, said, “I wait here every day. I will work with anybody. They pay YR 2000 a day (around $9 US), but I only find work for one or two days a week.”
Many of those are high-school leavers and few are university degree holders. If the Yemenis who have a good level of education suffer for finding just a few days of work for low wages a week, what will the future of the country be like?
Growth in the number of youth
The employment prospects for youth in Yemen are very limited. The country is going through a population boom, which is a demographic phenomenon in a lot of developing countries when health services improve and lower infant mortalities. The boom is later stemmed by family planning and contraceptive measures.
Yemen, however, has been stuck in a population boom for a while, and public health analysts are unsure of when the fertility rate tide will turn.
The increase in the fertility rate in Yemen is estimated at 4.5 children for each woman, which means that the overall population grows by almost 3% per year.
The ages of a quarter of the people of Yemen range between 10 and 19 years, which suggests that the youth unemployment crisis might get worse in the medium term. Since 46% of the population are below 16 years old, the picture in the long term is of the same gloominess.
Al-Iryani said, “By the beginning of 2020, two million jobs must be created to keep employment rates at controllable levels. The overgrowth of the number of youth together with the increase of unemployment may shake the stability of the country to the core. The youth who lose hope might be unpredictable.”
In recent years, the theory of “the youth surge” has become a lens through which conflicts are commonly viewed by sociologists and anthropologists.
In a report for the Council of Foreign Affairs, Lionel Beiner wrote that the countries which suffer from a surge in the number of youth “mostly have unemployment eventually and the ensuing widespread masses of angry youths are likely to be recruited by violent movements. Also, countries with weak political institutions are more vulnerable to violence and social disorder related to the youth surge.”
According to Population Action International, 80% of new civil conflicts occurred between 1970 and 1999 in countries where 60% or more of their population is under the age of 30.
Unemployment and Instability
Yemen has a long history of instability, and it may limit the chances of the Yemeni youth getting economic opportunities whether the country is able to control various conflicts.
Nevertheless, Raydan Al-Saqqaf, National Coordinator of the International Labor Organization, believes that the unemployment rate in the country will definitely go up. He said, “I believe that unemployment is bound to increase because the number of those who enter the labor market greatly outnumber the job opportunities created.”
“The worst scenario is that the youth’s turn from seeking job opportunities into a disaster, which might shake the stability of the country.”
In a response to the question whether the rise in unemployment could lead to a rise in instability, the Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani said, “The clear answer is yes. All these challenges have deep roots in the economic and industrial crisis the country faces. The rise of one problematising factor, like unemployment, will mean the rise of another.”
Although politics is a direct cause of instability, unemployment is one of the many structural causes together with poverty, bad lifestyle and lack of social services, which will curve our current problems hyperbolically,” Al-Saqqaf added.
The truth is that the conflict in the northern province of Sa’ada has always defied political settlement. Moreover, these short-term political solutions do nothing for alleviating the effects of economic causes that lie behind the conflict.
In this respect Ma’een Al-Iryani said, “I think that the real credit of our country is the human resources. If we want to survive, the government has to allocate its sources to the development of the human resources and the job market.”
Although many people have benefited from the demographic results, which results from increased population, where educated youth have positively contributed to the economic development, the rate of investment growth in human capital in Yemen remains very low.
Education was only relatively accessible to a small percentage of the population (around 50% of Yemenis are illiterate), and even those who hold university degrees rarely have the required skills for success in places of modern labor.
Al-Iryani has had students who have certificates in Information Technology (IT) he discovered they were not competent at using Microsoft office suite programs and English language graduates who, in many times, could not make simple conversation with English speakers.
Investment in Education
To address these flaws, and consequently turning the “youth surge” into an unbridled opportunity for economic improvement, Al-Iryani suggests raising the funds allocated for the technical education and vocational training. By including vocational training programs directed for employment, work opportunities will noticeably increase.
With only 1.4% of Yemeni students enrolled at present in technical and vocational training, this goal is still a very long way off.
Al-Iryani also cast light on the importance of the Gulf partners of Yemen. He said, “If we want to survive, we will need to create more work opportunities at the regional level as well, especially in the Gulf, where there is a large labour market, which is often filled by non-Gulfis. However, we need to provide better education because they will not accept unskilled labor any more, for they can have it more cheaply from south-east Asia.”
He added, “While the main security crises in Yemen continue to get the attention of the media outlets, it is so important not to forget the adversity of the youth of Yemen. Worst scenario is that these youths turn form an opportunity into a catastrophe, because this may increase the instability of the country.”