This is a summary of a workshop held in Jordan in May 2012, which brought Yemeni youth activists together with international policy-makers to explore the extent of youth participation in Yemen's transition process and identify mechanisms for increasing future involvement.
Changing perceptions of international actors
Yemeni perceptions of the international community have improved over the last six months, largely driven by the positive role of UN special envoy Jamal Benomar. Other external actors' efforts to support Yemen through aid, capacity-building and the Friends of Yemen process are reflected in relatively positive perceptions of European countries.
However, a poor perception of several countries remains: US policy in Yemen is still seen as focused only on counter-terrorism, while Iran and Saudi Arabia are also seen as interfering in Yemen in pursuit of national self-interest.
Military reform: an urgent priority
Military reform is an urgent priority and comprehensive restructuring – which goes beyond reshuffling a handful of senior commanders – is likely to take at least two years. There are ongoing discussions between US military planners and President Abdo Rabbo Mansur Hadi, but no clear plan has been agreed. Increased consultation and transparency in the process are priorities for Yemeni youth.
The demands of youth activists will help to maintain pressure on Hadi to expedite reforms of the military and security services, and activists can increase their leverage by lobbying the international community to keep the question of military reform high on the diplomatic agenda.
National dialogue – a question of representation
There was widespread agreement that youth inclusion offered a unique opportunity to promote the establishment of a modern, democratic state in Yemen, and that the participation of young people was vital to the success of the national dialogue. However, there was no consensus over how to ensure that youth activists are able to influence the preparatory stages, or how best to achieve youth representation in the dialogue itself.
This is aggravated by the lack of transparency on the part of the Yemeni government and the international community regarding plans for the national dialogue. With no clear terms of engagement for the process, youth groups cannot adequately prepare.
The southern question
The possibility that representatives of the southern movement will not be willing to take part in the national dialogue puts in doubt the ability of the dialogue to fully engage all sections of Yemeni society, and ultimately the success of the dialogue itself.
However, many young Yemenis are keen for dialogue to take place at the grassroots level between northerners and southerners, and between southerners, to increase mutual understanding of grievances, clarify the aims of dialogue at the national level and identify solutions to the southern question.
Increasing youth participation in politics
Yemeni activists are keen to increase youth participation in politics and to work on ways to improve youth awareness and skill levels in the political arena. Support from both Yemeni and international policy-makers was seen as essential to these aspirations, especially through directing international funding to a wider number of local NGOs and CSOs and more training programmes to give young people the tools to engage in politics effectively.
Youth activists have a vital role to play in engaging wider Yemeni society in the national dialogue and taking forward civil society.
Key actions to take in the short term to support aspirations for a successful national dialogue are:
- Increasing transparency and providing more information about the national dialogue process;
- Supporting youth groups to address the question of representation and participate effectively in the national dialogue;
- Youth groups pushing for greater interaction with the transition government; and
- Increasing the access of youth groups and NGOs outside Sana’a to resources and training.