While celebrated by the international community, many Yemenis do not see the country’s truce as a success. Significant disappointments included continuing violations and a lack of meaningful negotiations at the national-level talks. However, as Mareike Transfeld and Ahmed al-Sharjai argue, there were positive impacts at the local level. For a future truce to have a greater impact, more communication amongst stakeholders is needed.
The six-month truce that lasted between April and September 2022 in Yemen was the greatest achievement of the United Nations-led peace process so far. Although some of the truce’s achievements, such as the re-opening of Sanaa International Airport to commercial flights in April 2022, were celebrated, overall, Yemenis are disappointed. While the Saudi-led coalition conducted no airstrikes, violence in many of the frontlines continued unabated. In addition, the expectations that the truce would lead to a political process and the negotiation of a political settlement were not realised. When asked about the impact of the truce, local sources focused primarily on truce violations at the frontlines and the national-level talks in Amman, which failed to reach an agreement on essential points, including the opening of Hawban road in Taiz. In addition, the reality of life for most Yemenis was not greatly improved during the truce period. Many Yemenis experienced continued or even increased restrictions on their movement and extremely high prices for daily necessities. And because of major funding cuts across international humanitarian organizations, Yemen’s vulnerable communities received less support during the truce.
Violations at the frontlines were considered by many Yemenis as the main measure of whether the truce was a success, and here it fell short. Despite this however, digging deeper, one does find that the truce had some positive impacts on communities. This was underlined by research conducted in six governorates for the Josoor peacebuilding program funded by the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and co-implemented by Chemonics International, Deeproot Consulting, and the Yemen Policy Center (YPC). Josoor supports local conflict resolution and peacebuilding in al-Hodeidah, Taiz, Shabwa, Aden, and Marib. However, there was neither public communication about the truce and its impacts during the period of the truce, nor were expectations managed concerning improvement of living conditions and security at the community level that could be achieved and seen as a positive impact. What’s more, because Yemeni civil society is largely unconnected, there were few concerted efforts by civil society to exploit the truce to improve living conditions. Against this backdrop, it is easy to dismiss the truce as a failure.
The (limited) cessation of hostilities at the frontline alone did not translate directly into an improvement in living conditions. Therefore, what is needed are local, concerted efforts supported by international organizations to exploit opportunities that are enabled by a truce. In that light, the international community should support the establishment and strengthening of local networks, efforts to collect information on opportunities for local peacebuilding and positive impacts, and public communication campaigns to ensure local buy-in for the truce. Because the involvement of international mediators and organizations risks making local dynamics more complicated, peacebuilding efforts must be locally driven and supported externally according to the Do No Harm principles.
Achievements of the truce
The truce had its greatest impact not only in areas where fighting calmed down at the frontlines but also where forces had already withdrawn, prior to the truce. The combination of the truce and the withdrawal of Houthi forces (also known as Ansarallah) from Shabwa’s Bayhan, al-Ain, and Ussaylan in January 2022 allowed residents to return to work and to focus on their families’ needs, while internally displaced persons returned to their homes. In Bayhan district, with the Houthi withdrawal, payment of public sector salaries resumed and commercial activities revived. Prior to their withdrawal, trade with bank notes printed by Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen (IRG) authorities was prohibited, with only the old bank notes in circulation in Houthi territory being allowed. This brought commercial activity in the district to a halt, as residents could not use their salaries and savings. After the withdrawal and the lift of the ban, commercial activity resumed. In al-Hodeidah, the withdrawal of the Joint Forces from al-Hodeidah’s al-Durayhimi, Beit al-Faqih, and al-Tuhayta in November 2021, the reduction of violence, and the availability of oil derivatives as a result of the truce allowed residents and merchants to re-open their shops and restore destroyed buildings. In contrast to Shabwa, in al-Hodeidah landmines were not removed from the frontlines, resulting in the highest level of civilian landmine victims across all governorates during the truce period.
Generally, the potential impact of the truce on living conditions and prices of commodities was limited, given that local (de facto) authorities continued to tax commodities, the transport of goods remained difficult because roads remained closed, and international food prices had increased due to the war in Ukraine. However, with the availability of oil derivatives in Houthi territory during the truce, water and electricity services improved in Sanaa and al-Hodeidah. In Sanaa, the electricity network was expanded to cover 70 per cent of the city, while more neighborhoods were provided with power, given power stations could be run at a higher rate. Similarly, water was pumped to neighborhoods which previously did not receive water from the public grid. In al-Hodeidah, the availability of oil derivatives reduced the price of fuel from 25,000 YER to 11,500 YER; commercial electricity and water services improved in quantity while prices were reduced slightly.
Finally, mediation by a group of local mediators, who were working on prisoner exchange, investigating abductees and detainees, and extracting the bodies of the dead from the frontline, continued throughout the truce period, with approximately 140 of the dead exchanged along the frontline. Local mediators’ efforts are supported through the Yemen Support Fund (YSF), an FCDO-funded stabilization project.1 In July 2022, a prisoner exchange was mediated between the Houthis and the Giants Brigades to exchange two leaders of the Giants with nine Houthi troops.
In addition, tribal mediation led to the opening of a road connecting Shabwa and al-Beidha. In what was described by Abdullah al-Shaddad, the founder of the network of local mediators, as civil society’s greatest contribution to the truce, a committee of local mediators participated in peace talks between the main conflict parties in Amman. Al-Shaddad explained that the participation of local mediators allowed conflict parties to have a greater understanding of the local dynamics of the issues being negotiated. As not all demands and obstacles are communicated openly in the negotiations, local mediators play an important role in presenting the various perspectives to the conflict parties. At the same time, local mediators were able to better understand dynamics at the national-level negotiations.
Potentials of the truce
The Josoor research highlights the circumstances in which the truce could have achieved a greater impact at the community level; that is, if the truce had been accompanied by a better communication campaign, coupled with networked civil society engagement and international support. For instance, the positive impact of the truce in southern parts of al-Hodeidah could have been maximized with efforts to remove landmines and to include international humanitarian support. Not all who were displaced from these areas used the truce period to return, not only because of the presence of landmines but also becauseof the lack of services in these areas. Coupled with the high price of commodities and high levels of destruction, residents could not return without humanitarian assistance. In addition, the truce could have presented an opportunity to define local authority responsibilities in al-Hodeidah territories that are still under IRG control. Because this territory is so small and there is no local authority for al-Hodeidah on the IRG side, and the Taiz local authority does not feel responsible, the area’s residents are neglected both by the IRG and international organizations.
A similar situation exists in Marib, where the parts of the governorate that fell under Houthi control lack services. Not only was electricity provision to this area cut off by the Marib local authority, but most public sector officials left these areas after their IRG salaries were suspended. The officials were subsequently replaced by volunteer teams, who were inexperienced, resulting in the deterioration of services in general. The truce could have been an opportunity to improve service delivery for the residents of Houthi-controlled Marib. In July 2022, Sultan al-Arada, the governor of Marib and a member of the Presidential Leadership Council, stated that he was ready to deliver electricity to Houthi-controlled areas. As of yet, the proposal has not been implemented, with both sides accusing each other of blocking the implementation.
In Taiz, mediation initiatives to improve water provision, general services, and infrastructure in Taiz city were on hold during the truce. The frontline north east of Taiz city cuts the majority of Taiz city residents off from services (particularly water), and the partial siege of the city has accelerated the deterioration of infrastructure, as equipment cannot be brought into the city. The latter impacts the provision of health services, as vital medical infrastructure cannot be maintained and certain services cannot be provided (e.g., dialysis machinery) because there is insufficient technical equipment in the city. A truce could have presented an opportunity to negotiate the entry of such equipment as well as improved access to water reserves located in Houthi territory. However, progress on these issues was not possible as access issues were negotiated at the national level; and these negotiations did not bring about a solution.
A word of caution when working at the local level
The Josoor research demonstrated the difficulties of learning about the positive impact of the truce. It was easiest to collect information on topics that were addressed by organized or semi-organized civil society groups, such as the YSF and Josoor supported local mediators. This, coupled with the circumstance that there were no concerted efforts by civil society actors or local state institutions to utilize the truce period to further local peacebuilding or improve living conditions, demonstrates the need for the strengthening of local networks.
In preparation for another truce, the international community should support local networks – with a high degree of caution, given that such networks are regarded as a threat by local (de facto) authorities. The international community should also support communication efforts not only to allow for the collection of information on the positive impacts of the truce and opportunities for local peacebuilding but also for public communication campaigns, which would ensure local buy-in for the truce, as well as the management of expectations.
Expectations should be managed to allow Yemenis to focus on human-centred and local improvement. However, this should be done without elevating local issues to the national level, which could add layers of complexity to local issues and make them impossible to resolve. With all the possibilities and opportunities that exist at the local level, it is important to be aware of possible pitfalls associated with local peacebuilding. While peace practitioners often speak positively about scaling-up local successes, the risk of disrupting local processes by involving national-level actors or by putting local initiatives under the spotlight is high.
Mareike Transfeld is the Co-Founder of and Consultant at the Yemen Policy Center, Germany, where she manages the research components of various projects in the fields of the security sector, civil society and politics. She is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin. Until 2015, she was a Research Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
Ahmed al-Shargabi is a Research Analyst at the Yemen Policy Center, Germany, and a program assistant at the Yemen Polling Center, Taiz, Yemen. He supports YPC in the implementation of projects situated in a variety of fields, including civil society and politics. His experience as a civil society activist at the Media tent at the Change Square in Sanaa in 2011, as well as a researcher at YPC, has allowed him to gain good knowledge about the dynamics of the events in Yemen.
This article is based on a research paper written in the framework of the UK-funded Josoor peacebuilding project. The conception of the research paper was supported by Ahmed al-Khameri, the Team Lead at Chemonics International. The publication of this article was funded by the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK.
The IRG and the Houthis implemented a deal for the exchange of 135 prisoners in Taiz, December 2019. The deal resulted in the release of 75 prisoners by the Houthis in exchange for the release of 60 Houthi prisoners by Taiz’s government authorities. The deal was facilitated by tribal mediation. Source: Alamy.
- The YSF is a UK-funded FCDO program implemented jointly by Chemonics International, DeepRoot, YPC, and Crest Point. The YSF identifies and invests in opportunities that protect civilians, promotes political de-escalation and dialogue, and strengthens the foundations for longer-term stability in Yemen.