by Baraa Shiban
This memo was presented at a workshop on ‘Yemen’s Urban–Rural Divide and the Ultra-Localisation of the Civil War‘ organised by the LSE Middle East Centre on 29 March 2017.
Hadhramout in the eastern part of Yemen and its biggest province could be a unique model for a federal form of governance. The province special conditions and the high oil revenues that resulted from the oil exploration activity in 1993, give Hadhramout the capability to having local authorities with high level of independency. Hadrhamout shares a 700 km border with Saudi Arabia and has a large diaspora living in the Gulf countries, some of which are leading investors who might play a significant role in carrying investments in Hadhramout. The majority of Hadhrami people are not politically affiliated but most share a Hadhrami identity they believe is particular to the province.
The Hadhrami people are predominantly religiously conservative. The Hadhrami tribal federation supported calls for self-determination, which were launched by the Southern Movement in 2007, but at the same time demanded self-autonomy over Hadhramout.
In 2015–2016, Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took over Mukalla, Hadhramout’s main city, and ruled the city for almost a year before the Arab Coalition led an offensive in April 2016 forcing them out. The Arab Coalition used Hadhrami trained forces – knows as the Hadhrami Elite forces – to carry out the offensive. These same forces have been in charge of the security in Mukalla since then.
Demands for Federalism
Lengthy discussions during the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) resulted in a consensus for moving towards decentralisation. NDC delegates representing Hadhramout originally called for self-determination, joining the Southern Movement’s demands, however as the NDC sessions were concluding, President Hadi managed to convince them that a federal system would guarantee high-level empowerment over decision-making processes and wealth.
Hadhramout was a leading example of self-governance since 2006 through its local councils. Interviews conducted with staff from local authorities in Hadhramout confirmed that services like water and electricity are run independently from the central government in Sana‘a. Hadhramout also has independent water and power plants.
Although the local councils encouraged investors in the Gulf – those descending from Hadhrami tribes and families – to explore possibilities of investing in Hadhramout, the centralised nature of the Yemeni government prevented investors from dealing directly with local councils. Those investors who tried to work their way through Sana‘a, faced layers of bureaucracy at the central level.
Local councils have repeatedly complained about not receiving enough funds to run affairs at the local level. Meetings between local council members and NDC delegates highlighted the high level of frustration regarding the distribution of oil revenues. Hadhrami local councils demanded a percentage of the oil revenues, a demand shared by all oil-producing provinces. Hadhramout Masila oil site – Oil Block 14 – generates 75 percent of Yemen’s oil income, producing up to 235,000 barrels of oil per day. This lack of secure sources of funding to the local councils made the NDC’s plan for federalism resonate well with a good percentage of the Hadhrami people. In a recent visit to Hadhramout, President Hadi promised the province would start receiving 20 percent of oil income as soon as oil production resumes.
Hadhramout between Civil War and Post-Conflict
As fighting erupted in the city of Aden in March 2015, military and security forces stationed in Mukalla were evacuating their positions towards the North. General Abdulrahman Al Halili mentioned that Al Qaida exploited the political void and captured the city of Mukalla in April 2015. However, interviews with local residents and security personnel in Hadhramout confirmed that Al Qaida’s takeover of Mukalla was smooth, without armed confrontation by the military or security forces.
Al Qaida used some locals from Hadhrami tribes to provide tribal cover for their presence in the city. An entity under the name of ‘Sons of Hadhramout’ was formed and reached an agreement to run the city in coordination with Hadhramout Domestic Council. The presence of Al-Qaida remained highly unchallenged except from local civilians who protested the militia’s control over the city. Drone strikes that targeted Al Qaida top leadership between June and December 2016 prove that the group has used Mukalla as a safe haven.
Current governor of Hadhramout Ahmed Bin Buraik said in a phone interview that the Hadhrami Elite Forces – a force composed of only Hadhrami tribe members – were trained by Emirati Special Forces in July 2015 and continued to receive training until taking control of Mukalla in April 2016. The Hadhrami Elite Forces still run the security apparatus in the city to this date. The newly trained forces were accused of arbitrary detention, misconduct and lack of respect for the rule of law after taking over Mukalla. Two Yemeni civil society organisations that issued reports in the Human Rights Council 34th Session in Geneva documented more than twenty cases of misconduct. I have reached out to the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights for response on the allegations. All deputy ministers responded that members of the force had not graduated from the police academy and lacked human rights training. They said they are seriously raising the issue with the local authorities.
Baraa Shiban is a Yemini human rights activist and a Middle East and North Africa Caseworker at Reprieve UK. He tweets at @BShtwtr.
Other Contributions in the Series
- Yemen’s Rural Population: Ignored in an Already-Forgotten War, Helen Lackner
- Empire of Information: The War on Yemen and its Agricultural Sector, Martha Mundy
- The Battle to Control the ‘Commanding Heights’ of the Yemeni Economy, Rafat Al-Akhali
- Saada: Ground Zero, Gabriele vom Bruck
- From Protesters to Politicians: The Rise of the Houthis, Nawal Al-Maghafi
- Taiz Youth: Between Conflict and Political Participation, Maged Sultan
- Community Responses to Conflict in Taiz, Kate Nevens
- Healthcare under Siege in Taiz, Sophie Désoulières
- Aden: Relief Challenges and Opportunities, Awssan Kamal
- Marib: Local Changes and the Impact on the Future of Yemeni Politics, Alkhatab Al-Rawhani