By: Jihan Anwar
“There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Last week, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was hosted in Sana’a. In a closed-door meeting, representatives of donor countries and delegates for the upcoming National Dialogue Conference discussed ways to respond to potential obstacles to the holding of the conference.
At the same time, for the average Yemeni, the arrival of the UNSC translated into a massive traffic jam in the capital. Security forces were literally at every crossing and at every turn in the city; helicopters flew low overhead; major roads and strategic locations were closed without prior warning and checkpoints contributed to further slowing vehicles’ passage. Many people opted to stay at home rather than head for work or school.
In the midst of traffic, while deafening horns and complaints resounded in vain, a conversation between two men caught my attention. One was clearly irritated – not as much by the traffic as by the design of Yemeni streets.
“Why don’t they build proper streets? Who is responsible for such poor traffic management?” he complained.
The man next to him promptly snapped back, “You’re talking about building streets? What about ‘building human beings’ first? Building their character, teaching them integrity and ethics?”
As farfetched as it may sound, their questions did highlight a critical point; on some level, the points raised by the two men were very much related.
What can a new, high-tech hospital contribute if it doesn’t contain qualified staff, and if sick patients are neglected, if not exploited, there? What is the value of a well-designed and well-furnished library if people there aren’t instilled with the importance of culture, open-mindedness and with the notion of broadening their knowledge?
What is the purpose of a newly-built university campus when students there are given a taste of the bleak future which awaits them, with nepotism, limitations on free speech and blatant corruption, which plagues educational institutions from within?
No matter how much foreign aid and international support Yemen is given, it always tends to be mismanaged and it hardly ever reaches the people who need it.
The very fact that Gulf countries, the ‘Friends of Yemen’ donor nations, and the United Nations are so actively involved in domestic politics reveals what amounts to proof of the Yemeni people’s failure to handle challenging national conditions, even after a supposed victory and in the midst of a democratic revival.
The inability of different factions to reach understandings is, I believe, more related to decadence – and reluctance to sacrifice for national interests – than anything else.
Work, conscience, character, sacrifice, principles, humanity, and ethics: how high up on the agenda have they been placed when it comes to building Yemen’s future?