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‘We, civil society, can teach peace’

Story Cordaid
Yemen -

Maged Alkholidy (40) is the director of Youth Without Borders Organization for Development. YWBOD is a Yemeni non-governmental, non-profit civil society organization based in Taiz. It promotes youth engagement in peacebuilding and civil life.

“Six years of war in Yemen have created the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. Everybody is suffering. Public services have stopped years ago. Most people have no electricity, no running water, there’s no garbage collection, sewage systems have stopped working. Factories are bombed, damaged, or closed. Just like schools, and many health centers and hospitals. People have lost their jobs. Salaries are no longer paid. Food insecurity has skyrocketed, the local currency has plummeted. It’s a humanitarian, an economic, a security,  an education, and a health crisis all in one. To only way to survive the collapse of public services is to rely on commercial parties. Or to flee. This comes with very high costs. Those who have no means, which is the majority, can only rely on aid.”

“One of our main goals is to have more young Yemeni’s actively engaged in the peace process, inside Yemen as well as among the diaspora.”

“Since 2013, YWBOD has engaged in humanitarian work, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Not only in Taiz, but mostly in and around that city. We can work with communities, with authorities, with the military, the police, and other security actors. We bridge divides, between conflicting parties and communities and between aid sectors. People trust us.”

Bringing people together has a peacebuilding effect

“We organize our humanitarian work in such a way that it has a peacebuilding effect. Take the water networks. Most of them are destroyed. So, wherever water is available, people crowd together and often fight for water. We make conflicting groups sit together, discuss pressing needs and grievances. In some places, we mobilize seed funds for people to do what they think is most needed. Like restoring the water pipes. Thus, communities come together, talk together, and solve problems together. And tensions decrease. Of course, local conflicts all have their own sensitivities and realities. And then you have the bigger scheme of national conflicts. They are not the same. But they do feed one another and have the same devastating effect of division among the Yemeni people. Any effort that brings people together has a peacebuilding effect.”

“Because of my human rights work, I was shot at. They accused me of incitement. It was the worst moment in my life.”

“We work with the security sector, training police officers in community security, in the principles of human rights and humanitarian law. At times, especially between 2016 and 2018, there were severe clashes between security forces and the military in government-controlled areas. By helping them align and promote joint operations, instead of fighting one another, we improved the security situation.”

Young people claim more space

“First and foremost, we’re a youth organisation. We established the Youth, Peace and Security Pact in Yemen. One of our main goals is to have more young Yemeni’s actively engaged in the peace process, inside Yemen as well as among the diaspora. We, the young (I am 40 but I still consider myself young) claim more space. In politics, in peacebuilding. Conflict and war have robbed us of our space, to live, to work, to study, to seek healthcare, to travel.  And also to restore and rebuild the country. We claim that space.

I started being an activist when I was 20, long before the war. During the Arab Spring, I was one of many to protest peacefully on Freedom Square. Because of this, and because of my human rights work in youth networks, I was shot at. It happened in an office. They accused me of incitement. It was the worst moment in my life.”

“Young Yemeni men and women give me hope. They have lost so much more than people my age. Yet they keep on giving everything for a better future.”

“Today, Yemen is going through its blackest period. After 20 years of civil struggle, my hair is now getting grey. Hard as life is, I am not desperate. The young Yemeni men and women around me give me hope. They are the war generation and have lost so much more than people my age. Yet they keep on giving everything for a better future. They are the basis of a new Yemen. But they need ground beneath their feet. They need to be able to lead a civil life. We need to show them how to live civil life again. For them, war is the norm and peace is an exception. They don’t know that peace is normal.

We, civil society, can teach peace. However limited, however big the challenges, there is always something we can do. And we do it.”

The cycle of revenge and how to stop it

“Internationally, interventions are double-edged. So many parties, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, the Emirates, and others, have massive interests in the war. They only fan the flames. They should leave Yemen alone. We appreciate the support of donor agencies and countries that have no direct interests, like the Netherlands or Germany. Humanitarian aid is necessary. But to stop the cycle of revenge and start a fruitful national dialogue, we need more investment in reconciliation between warring parties. And in peacebuilding. Only this triple nexus of relief, peacebuilding, and development cooperation can help Yemen forward.”

Read more

Facing Two Fronts, the interview CSPPS had in 2020 with Maged Alkholidy, discusses the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on prospects for peace and stability in Yemen.