Bin Dohry’s Letter from Hadhramaut - December 2017

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Haid Al-Jazil, a village perched entirely on a boulder. Wadi Do'an, Yemen


Bin Dohry’s Letter from Hadhramaut - December 2017

It was rather difficult to get a flight from Kenya to Hadhramaut; or for that matter from any other country, flights to Yemen without a great hassle is a near impossibility as it is still at war with itself. The only operational airports in Yemen are Seiyun in Hadhramaut, as well as Aden airport. The latter is under the strict control of the coalition forces.

This is truly a manmade dire situation in which the main players wish the status quo of the country at large remains as it is and in total chaos with shortages in food, diesel, electricity and the most basic necessities of life. This is the perception of those who wish to remain in power, increase their wealth and maintain status. While all this chaos is going on, the International Community has been impotent and failed in its attempts to bring the warring parties to sort out their problems or take any decisive action.

The Coalition also has its own agendas and do not seem to have a strategy on the unfolding events which have taken many by surprise with the recent brutal killing of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis on 4 December 2017, which happened on the outskirts of Sana’a while on his way with others to Sanha’an his tribal home and birthplace.

Yemen today stands at a cross road of separation into two states and who knows what will be the final outcome as many want total separation from both the two parts of Yemen (North & South). The Mahra/Socotra on the one hand and Hadhramaut on the other! It all remains to be seen.

There have been too many players as we witness – the Legally recognized Government of Abdo Rabo Mansour Hadi (which operates from Riyadh), the Central Government in Sana’a now controlled by the Houthis and the Majlis al-Intigaaliy (Transitional Council) led by Abubaker Al Zubeidy (the former Governor of Aden) with others including former Governor of Hadhramaut – Ahmed Bin-Breik, claiming for a complete break of the South from the North.

The Yemeni Rial has totally collapsed against the US Dollar, it has risen from 210 Rials before the war to currently YR430 and rising. Money changers do most of the transactions compared to the banks.
Diesel shortages and power cuts in Mukalla have been for hours daily and diesel is imported by tycoons.

No government actually exists and so most utilities are dysfunctional, many government employees have not been paid their salaries for months. Most of the laymen/women praise and speak highly of the year 2015/16 when Al Qaeda took control of Hadhramaut claiming that there was stability and justice. They dealt with issues promptly and professionally and no black market trading existed then compared to these days after Al Qaeda were driven out of Mukalla and Hadhramaut. Security which was a major concern was handled well then.

Returning to my trip, I spent three days in Dubai and flew out on Oman Air to Salalah in Oman where I had to spend three days to catch a bus directly to Mukalla (this took 17 hours) in a small bus and we were only 10 passengers – 2 Brits –my wife and myself, a Belorussian (Yemeni), the others were Omani. The Oman side of the stretch was perfect; but once we entered the border point of Sarfit the Yemeni side the road was treacherous for long stretches. At the border points, the Omani side was quick and swift in processing our documents but once we entered Yemeni territory the process was hugely time consuming with security personnel flexing their muscles at the Yemeni end. It will be wonderful if Yemen changes and takes lessons from their Omani neighbours. There is was NIL politeness and the search on of the passenger luggage was to say the least for feeding their corrupt practices.

Mahra Province is another very sad story. Its towns were in appallingly poor condition, one rarely saw tarmacked roads. There was no sign of a government apparatus, no security checkpoints on the way to Hadhramaut. We had spent time in Al Mahra looking for diesel as our bus was running out. We finally managed to get some diesel in Qishn.

Once into the borders of Hadhramaut as we passed the Mahra towns of Al Gheidhah, Nashtun, Saihut, Qishn, we entered Dees Asharqiyyah in Hadhramaut, the security checkpoints were in evidence all the way to Mukalla; we ran the gauntlet of more than 15 altogether. Vigorous checks were carried out in Shihr and onwards to Mukalla. By the time we arrived it was the following day in the early morning hours of 5th November 2017


Yemeni Bureaucracy and a State of Chaos.

The issue of optimism or pessimism on the situation in Hadhramaut or in Yemen at large, has to be defined at a later stage when the situation gets clearer, the reason being, there is relatively nothing positive to contribute without touching on the raw nerves of many. Political developments keep moving faster and are changing by the day.
I will dwell on my personal involvement in some of the local activities in Hadhramaut in a chronological order.

I received many official and social invitations to local functions, all I felt I could not turn down. Some of the events that I attended I was generously accorded the status of an official guest! On other occasions I met with various officials and public figures, mainly of the Mukalla Branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Director General of Immigration. Here, I took the opportunity to raise some of the issues relating to Hadhrami Emigrants living in the Diaspora (Al mughtaribeen fil Mahjar).
Soon after my arrival in Mukalla on 6th November, I was asked a couple of days later to attend a Youth Entrepreneurship event to make a short presentation and give away certificates with others to some of the participants. It was well attended in a social hall in Fuwah by local officials and the community.

The lack of resources that confront innovation and community work have been shortage of financial support as well as technical guidance but the spirit of the youth was evident and deserves encouragement and the support of government as well as local and international organisations.

On one November evening, I met with the Governor of Hadhramaut Major-General Faraj Salmeen Albahsani at his residence accompanied by Col. Ahmed Bahabry. I presented the Governor with a copy of our Hadhramaut Research Centre’s (HRC) first English academic book “Hadhramaut & it’s Diaspora: Yemeni Politics, Identity and Migration.” Edited by Dr Noel Brehony. We then discussed issues of interest on Hadhramaut and the Hadhrami Diaspora.

During my stay I met with Dr Abdulkader Bayazid, Deputy Dean, Hadhramaut University – Medical College and the Secretary General of the All Hadhramaut Inclusive Conference on two consecutive days, when he picked me up. We started early in the morning and worked until noon in a wide range of visits and discussions. On the second occasion I was on the receiving line with the Medical College and University professors/doctors to welcome the Governor of Hadhramaut at the University on the very well-attended occasion of its 20th anniversary since the setting up of the Medical College. It was established by our learned friend the Iraqi Professor Ghanem Al Sheikh now lecturer at Imperial College, London.
Prof. Ghanem and I met some years back on a flight when we were stranded at Istanbul Airport for some 36 hours. We then got on very well with each other; we had a lot to talk about and we enjoyed exchanging views on a wide range of topics. I joined the Governor, the President of the University, Prof. Khanbash, Deans of faculties and Head of the Medical College, Prof. Ali Batrfi in a closed session discussing the College’s needs, before we joined the audience in the main hall of the College for the official event.

I left Mukalla for Seiyun and on 18 November I met the Hadhrami historian Sayyid Jaafer Assagaaf. He is a good friend of the late John Shipman, Leila Ingrams, both of whom passed away last year in the UK.  He was visibly saddened when I relayed to him the news of their departure; he was unaware of their untimely passing away.
On the 19th of November I met members of the Arab Network @ Singapore and discussed the setting up an English system of education in Seiyun. I had earlier visited a potential location in Seiyun and we are still pursuing this very important educational subject to benefit the interior (the Wadi).

My final official event was the presentation I made on 3 December to launch our English academic book “Hadhramaut & It’s Diaspora: Yemeni Politics, Identity & Migration” at the HRC’s birth place in Fuwah, Mukalla. A number of Hadhrami academics, and the general public attended, and the Q & A session was very inspiring and informative for the young generation.

Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was brutally executed on 4th December by the Houthis. I left in the early morning hours of 5th December by road from Mukalla to Salalah.

During my stay in Mukalla, I managed to have fringe meetings with senior government officials to discuss the hardships faced by Hadhrami/Yemeni emigrants in the diaspora for they face very bureaucratic and frustrating time-consuming and uninformative procedures adopted by Yemeni Embassies/ Consulates in many countries. I spoke of experiences I witnessed and followed up on behalf of some emigrants when dealing with such un-necessary long and time-wasting procedural bureaucracies and cumbersome futile inefficiencies.
I relayed this to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative in Mukalla where I saw how the visitors were complaining at the lack of efficiency and the non-issuance of receipts for money paid on services rendered. These led to long waiting delays.
These issues are also experienced by Yemenis interacting with some Yemeni Embassies/ Consulates abroad. I met the Director General of Immigration and complained to him on how East African born Yemenis were segregated and did not receive similar treatment like their fellow nationals when it came to the renewal of their passports or to obtaining or renewing one’s Identity Card (ID). He assured me that passports were now renewable in Mukalla or the Embassies abroad, but there was a time when clearance had to come from Sanaa. The Director of IDs informed me that ID cards for those born overseas still had to be cleared by Sanaa to date where data was being held. I told him I found this very amusing since as far as I am aware the” legitimate government” is supposedly based in Riyadh or is it Aden?

I also met with the newly appointed General Manager of the Electricity Company in Mukalla and many others to discuss ways and means in participating in the rebuilding of various institutions. Most welcomed the positive attitude from those in the Diaspora. Especially by investing in power generation, oilfield activities, education and healthcare. I did point out that many in the Diaspora were willing, however the current atmosphere in the country was still of concern to many investors. While the uncertainty prevails there has been an influx of Hadhramis returning to Hadhramaut from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, this has made housing projects flourish as there is scarcity of accommodation within Mukalla where rental costs have spiraled and cost of land skyrocketed!

As I stated earlier there is total confusion within the country as well as in the Embassies/Consulates. These issues need to be addressed and discussed with those in the diaspora to avoid further injustices that are inflicted on them. Now that the coalition is in charge those in responsible positions in Yemen’s government should be taken to the UAE or Oman to see how these States facilitate procedures for everyone including their own nationals!! They should be given adequate professional training with the hope they adhere to rules and regulations without the temptation of corrupt practices.

The chaos in the country benefits a few who live on extortion and a quick kill for a fast buck at the expense of the population. On a positive note many are watching the scene and there is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel, once the dust settles down.

Muhammad Bin-Dohry

21st December 2017

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