The unification of a country or a state is always a politically volatile matter is underscored by several factors such as history, economic interests, ethnicity and the need to ensure a balance of power. The same has been the case in the Unification of Yemen. The Unification of Yemen took place on May 22nd, 1990, as the main movers and shakers of the arrangement (the Yemen Arab Republic and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) came together to form the Republic of Yemen. Initially, although North and South Yemen had relatively cordial relations, yet the two had very different historical legacies. While North Yemen had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire until in November 1918 when the Ottoman Empire fell; South Yemen on the other hand had been being led by the United Kingdom until when protracted spates of insurgency compelled the colonial British Empire to withdraw from its colony, South America.
It is at this juncture that the North went ahead to establish its republican government which comprised mainly tribal and religious representatives as the South moved to form a government based on socialist (Marxist) and secular ideals, to become the only socialist or Marxist government in the middle east. The party that was ruling South Yemen was the National Liberation Front, which later became the Yemeni Socialist Party. Thus, it would be realistic that there is friction in an attempt to execute the Unification of Yemen.
One of the impediments to the Unification of Yemen would be underpinned by the fact that North and South Yemen were actually different states with different state goals and interests, prior to the Unification. It is against this backdrop that war broke out in 1994 between the North and South: with the war being the culmination of the failure by the Yemeni Arab Republic of North Yemen and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen failing. The disagreement lasted as early as May 22nd, 1990 when the Republic of Yemen was formed (Yonsei University Class Notes, 2011).
The difference in ideologies is also seen to have underpinned the limitations that stood in the path of the Unification of Yemen. The difference in ideologies was seen in another wing pushing for decentralization as early as when the country was being reunified in 1990, as the other party opted for a centralized system of governance. This stalemate would only be solved when aspects of decentralization were adopted into the new Yemeni constitution which was passed in 1991. Other aspects would then be ratified in the Document of Pledge and Accord which was signed in February 1994 to ensure financial, administrative and political decentralization. At the heart of the problem of decentralization was the reality of economic interests (Whitaker, 2009).
The South was pushing for decentralization given that it was wary of its marginalization and being dominated over by the North. The sad twist to the entire development is that the Document of Pledge and Accord lacked practical economic and military modalities to avert the interparty hostility that would later break into an all out war. Given that the North enjoyed dominance in the negotiations (with this dominance being exemplified in the North winning the war against the South); it was always able to derail the decentralization agenda. This made the negotiation a laborious process. Nevertheless, coupled with international pressure and input, the talks would see the actualization of a positive step: the passing of the Local Authorities Law (Law/4/2000) on February 20th, 2000. The passing of this law would then herald local elections in February 2001 that would see the establishment of the local authorities in all the districts and governorates of/ in Yemen.
In addition to the almost barefaced inimical competitive interests that existed between the North and South, the prevalent poverty in Yemen only aggravated the difficulty in the Unification efforts. At the time, Yemen remained one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. This is a matter which is underscored by the fact that it had a low per capita income which made the democratic consolidation of the entire country into a single econo-political unit a very challenging affair. Similarly, the poverty therein is exemplified in the readily perceptible dependence on the government to actualize employment opportunities, subsidized goods and stipends; and the depletion of oil resources in the country (Ismail, 2001).
Sectarianism is also a factor to blame when considering the limitations to the Unification of Yemen. The religious, economic and political situations in Yemen situations in Yemen have always pushed the locals away from institutions and under the control of individuals. The estimation by World Bank that only 30% of Yemenis rely on the formal judiciary as the rest of the population resort to the tribal sheikhs for the settlement of disputes is indeed a testimony of the widespread sectarianism in the country. In such a situation, it becomes nearly impossible to build strong institutions and laws which will foster accountability and transparency among Yemeni (political) leaders. It is only through the strengthening of the same institutions that the inaccessibility of state values, runaway corruption and ineptitude may be extirpated.
It is the lack of the Checks and Balances and Separation of Powers that continue to derail the Unification of Yemen. It is the same deficiency that sees President Saleh become ancillary to his inner circle instead of the republic. Saleh’s inner circle at the moment is bereft of constitutional legitimacy; the goodwill to implement changes; and the interest in ceding away political and economic status quo.