Corruption is the root cause of Yemen’s stagnant growth, which threatens the country’s future and wastes vital resources, time, and human capabilities on a national level. Combating corruption should be a central part of any strategy to reduce instability and improve the lives of Yemeni citizens. 

The Center for International Private Enterprise’s new documentary, “Destructive Beast,” exposes the economic and social costs of corruption in Yemen. The 40-minute film captures the scale of abuses, including neglect, bribery, wasted public resources, and favoritism that have ravaged the country’s development and stability for years.

Carnegie hosted a screening of “Destructive Beast.” The Center for International Private Enterprise’s Abdulwahab Alkebsi discussed the issues highlighted in the film and Christopher Boucek moderated.

A Foundering State

Most international attention to Yemen has focused on security threats emanating from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This security threat, however, will not topple the Yemeni state. Instead, Alkebsi explained, the combination of development challenges and endemic corruption will most likely lead to its downfall. 

  • Small Businesses: Corruption is crippling the already moribund Yemeni economy. Small business owners are unable to expand because of the arbitrary fines and fees they are frequently charged by police officers and local officials. 
  • Unemployment: The inability of local businesses to expand in turn exacerbates an already dismal national unemployment level, officially estimated at 35%, which is particularly problematic among Yemeni youth. 
  • Investment: Corruption also discourages both local and foreign investment. The custom of wasta’ (or favoritism) means that favors or positions are given to those with familial connections or who bribe public officials. With no ability to guarantee their investments will reach the intended targets, many investors are reluctant to put their money into the Yemeni economy.
  • Documentation: Yemeni national documents, such as passports or identification cards, are regarded internationally with suspicion. Citizens can go to any passport office and, for a small bribe, obtain a passport or identification without proper documentation. Yemenis who wish to travel to other Gulf countries for work are often denied permission because of suspicions that their documents are falsified. This drastically reduces remittances and hurts the already troubled economy. 

A Culture of Corruption

One of the major features of Yemeni society that makes it difficult to combat corruption is what Alkebsi called the “inevitability mindset.” Corruption is so entrenched and pervasive in Yemeni society that many citizens feel as though they are powerless to do anything about it. In order to overcome this perception, Alkebsi said, it is important to enact incremental reforms to demonstrate that real change can be achieved by effective legislation. 

Yemeni Corruption and the West

Ultimately, corruption threatens Yemen’s legitimacy as a state and fuels the grievances that al-Qaeda feeds on. Yemen faces a confluence of crises, and corruption only exacerbates the manifold economic and security threats the state faces. As such, Boucek argued, the international community must address corruption issues in the development process and not focus solely on counter-terrorism aid.