FEATURE | 17 May 2022

Governors take centre stage in new presidential council

Village square in Taiz, Yemen. Village square in Taiz, Yemen. | Ahlam Alyousfi

New presidential council in Yemen highlights central role of local governance.


 

In a surprise announcement on 7 April, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi of Yemen irrevocably transferred his presidential powers to an eight-member presidential council. The announcement was unexpected, but was unsurprising in other ways, since it followed growing dissatisfaction with the status quo and served primarily to codify the de-facto realities on the ground.

The new Presidential Leadership Council consists of multiple current and former governors from Hadhramawt, Marib, and Aden, the president of the Aden and Lahj-centred Southern Transitional Council, as well as the commanders of two armed groups, and two veteran ministers and lawmakers. Its members represent different, largely geographically confined, power centres within the internationally recognised government and the presence of several governors makes visible the central role that local governance arrangements now play in Yemen’s fragmented political landscape.

The presence of multiple current and former governors in the new Presidential Leadership Council highlights the importance governors have taken on in the areas under control of the internationally recognised government and makes visible the central role that local governance arrangements now play in Yemen’s fragmented political landscape.

Role of local governance

Our latest publication explores these local dynamics in detail and examines the key role of governors and the deals they have been able to strike with the central government. While it is too early to tell what the effects of the new Presidential Leadership Council will be, there is reason to believe that it will continue and deepen the dynamics analysed in the report.

The report highlights that, in contrast to the trends observed in areas under the control of Ansar Allah and the Sana‘a authorities, the overall trajectory in areas controlled by the internationally recognised government has been towards increased local autonomy.

Governors have gained autonomy from the central government and decision-making is centralised in the governor’s office. Governors have made new appointments at the district level and in governorate-level executive offices, but their differential access to the central government determines the resources to which they have access and sets the parameters for how far-reaching their space for manoeuvre has become.

The central transfers governorates receive in theory have been eroded by inflation, are subject to delays, and depend on bargaining, political deals and governors’ relationship to central government. Some governorates have been able to access funds from outside donors or to generate new local revenue-streams on an ad-hoc basis.

In terms of public spending and services, a similar evolution of ad hoc local practices, often in combination with bilateral deals with the central government, has led to wide variation in service delivery, dependent on each governorate’s ability to generate and keep control of local revenues or attract central funding and foreign support, as well as on governors’ decisions about using the limited revenues available.


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