Tensions simmer between Yemen's government and southern secessionists

Tensions simmer between Yemen's government and southern secessionists
In-depth: A huge cash injection and a new budget are signs of promise in the war-torn country, but old divisions threaten to undermine any progress towards normality, reports Khalid al-Karimi.
5 min read
24 January, 2018
Yemen's Southern Resistance Forces announced it had started the 'overthrowing the legitimate government' [AFP]
Yemen's internationally recognised government is still making efforts to prove itself effective after three years of faulty performance. On Sunday, the government announced its budget for the first time since 2014.

Following the Houthi takeover of Sanaa in September 2014, the government lost its balance and was incapable of setting a budget, even though it relocated to the southern port city of Aden in early 2015. However, the government begins this year with a seemingly earnest bid to function  based on an action plan in areas under its control.

Though the new budget is not deficit-free, it is an indicator of the coming organised work. Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said this year's budget did not cover all provinces of Yemen.

"It's an austerity budget. It includes salaries for the military and civilians in 12 provinces," the prime minister said on Sunday. "Salaries in Houthi-dominated areas will be limited to the education and health sectors."

Uncovering some details of the 2018 budget, Bin Dagher pointed out the budget was projected at 1.5 trillion Yemeni riyals ($3.9 billion), with revenues estimated at 978 billion riyals ($2.6 billion).

Yemen's national economy has been in tatters since the war broke out in early 2015. Before then, the state was financed mainly on the back of oil revenues. When the country spiraled into civil strife between the Houthis and pro-government forces, oil production broke down. Exports and imports faltered as the country's ground, air and sea ports were taken under the control of the Arab coalition.

Over the past three years, the government has prioritised military operations, putting aside other vital sectors such as education and health. With this budget, the government hopes to shift its focus to other service-related fields, and this could be a sign of hope for a better situation in Yemen, observers have said.

This growing financial confidence of the Yemeni government was preceded by two things. First was the Saudi bailout to shore up Yemen's currency. Last week, the Saudi government made a deposit of $2bn to Yemen's Central Bank to stave off the total collapse of the Yemeni riyal. The declaration of the government's budget came three days later.

Second was the Saudi ambassador's visit to Aden last week, when he met the prime minister and other government officials. These two events seemed to have given a tremendous boost to the Aden-based Yemen government.

Challenging opponents

Though the government declaration of the 2018 budget has revived hope among many in Yemen, there lurk serious challenges ahead. These challenges could yet blow up and trigger fresh chaos in Aden.

On Sunday, leading southern separatists gave Riyadh-based President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi one week to dismiss the Bin Dagher's government. Otherwise, they warned, they would "take matters into their own hands" and overthrow the prime minister.

In a meeting spearheaded by Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the head of the Southern Transitional Council, the anti-government southerners accused the administration of rampant corruption and the intentional starving of the people.

Southern seperatists have demanded the dismissal
of Ahmed bin Dagher's government [AFP]

"The Southern Resistance Forces declare a state of emergency in Aden and announce that it has begun the process of overthrowing the legitimate government and replacing it with a cabinet of technocrats," read a statement."

This indicates the simmering tension and widening rift between the two sides. Since last year, the southern secessionists have been openly defying and occasionally clashing with the Saudi-backed government in Aden. Nowadays, the tension has mounted to a worrying level that could jeopardise peace in the south.

Political observers have warned against any escalation in Aden - since this could open a window to violence among the southerners themselves. The confrontation would be bloody, considering each of the two sides have been maintaining thousands of loyal soldiers in Aden. While the city currently enjoys some peace and services, it could turn into ruins if the two sides, the southern forces and government forces, opt for military action to subdue one another.

Nowadays, the tension has mounted to a worrying level that could jeopardise peace in the south

At a time when Yemen's Aden is witnessing this dangerous tension, the Saudi-led coalition has not made any statement. This could refer to the disparity in the coalition members' takes on the ongoing developments. The anti-government southern voices are known to have strong links with the UAE, whereas the government is receiving staunch support from KSA.

On Monday, the foreign ministers of the Saudi-led Arab coalition met in Riyadh, revealing new measures to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where more than 11.3 million Yemenis are in need of assistance to survive.

The meeting did not hint at the ongoing ominous rivalry in Aden. They are either confident that the tension in Aden will be contained or they do not want their differences on this issue to rise to the surface.

Over the past three years, Yemen's internationally recognised government has operated haphazardly, with its ministers abroad and without a stated budget. This year seems to mark a positive change in an uncertain time. The government is beset by the war in the north and secessionists in the south. 

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper.