The Grassroot Movement in Hadramout: Why Now?


Fri, 17-12-2021 08:50 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

On Dec.8th, during the Hadramout General Meeting in Harw, the Hadhramout Inclusive Conference and Alliance decided to establish civil checkpoints in the entrances and exits of the oil-rich governorate in South Yemen. There are numerous tools for this grassroots movement to press for achieving people’s demands. 

The movement or “the uprising’ announced suspending the exportation of fish, livestock and agricultural wealth until reaching self-sufficiency in the local market It also prohibited exporting oil outside Hadramout due to the government’s corruption and because people don’t benefit from the revenues of this wealth according to the Committee’s statemen (1). in Late October which stressed that Hadramout should remain a unified military zone(led by the Hadrami Elite in the Coast (Sahil), Plateau(Hadaba), the Valley (Wadi)and the Desert (Sahara).(2)

Why Now?

The movement  of Hadramout’s people is considered a practical indicator for the worsening economic and living conditions in the governorate. Although Hadramout represents more than 75% of the state’s general budget, due to its oil and gas resources, and its being one third of the total area of Yemen, it has suffered from constant negligence and deprivation for years; this has been duplicated with the outbreak of the latest Civil War in 2015. The Hadramis strongly suffers from the lack of oil derivatives which are being sold to them with very expensive prices.  

This comes amid looting and smuggling of the big governorate’s wealth over the years of war since 2015 and earlier. The governorate has a number of oil wells, including Mesilla Basin, 9 Malik Sector, Western Mukalla Sector41, Wadi Amad Sector 82, Al-Ain Sector72, Northern Mukalla Sector 48 and Al-Rayan Sector 57. All of them produce huge daily amounts of oil (3). The internationally-recognized Yemeni government concealed the revenues emanated from selling these resources amid accusations by political forces in South Yemen against influential parties in the Yemeni Presidency of depositing proceeds from oil sales into personal bank accounts abroad.(4)

 As for those accusations, some citizens often refers to Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar and the commanders affiliated to him in the 1st Military District in Wadi Hadramout which consists of military forces that are ideologically and militarily loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood (the Islah party).

Thus, what does this movement mean for Hadramout? The answer of this question requires searching for several motives behind it, the most important of which are the timing factor, the urgent need to establish a local scene that serves and secures the governorates especially in Wadi Hadramout, in addition to determining the most important and influential actors at different security, military, political and social levels for demonstrating to what extent they can impose the will to change through which they are looking forward to boosting the conditions of Hadramout in the wake of years of negligence and exploitation. The most important thing is related to what extent those actors accepted amidst Hadramout local community.

A final haven

Since the war has intensified early this year in Marib, the last bastion for the forces affiliated with Yemeni President in North, and the continuous advancement of the Iran-backed Houthis, some parties in the internationally-recognized Government began to prepare for several scenarios if the military collapse continues and the Houthis control the city. They include searching for another haven for the remnants of their defeated forces. Moreover, Shabwa, partially controlled by the Islah Party, is not currently a proper alternative as the government’s headquarters due to the ongoing tensions and the repeated tribal refusal for the presence of the local authorities, and addition to accusing it of handing over Bayhan districts to the Houthis without any resistance according to several top military commanders.(5)

Therefore, the most suitable option could be promoting the city of Mukalla to be an interim capital for the government as believed by those parties. For that, some entities affiliated with it began to propose this idea to feel the pulse of the people and examine the level of its acceptance. Parties inside the government previously promoted the possibility of taking Seiyun as a temporary capital for the government but this was met with popular refusal and denunciation, especially that the proposed city is located in the middle of Wadi Hadramout, and the headquarters of the 1st Military District, and directly subordinate to Northern forces led by General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar who is accused of being close to extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Wadi Hadramout is considered a safe haven for the AQAP’S members after leaving the city of Mukalla in April 2016.(6)

Hadi Government should not suppose that the Hadramout’s local community which refuses its policies will back off its perceptions towards it. The latest grassroot movement could determine the frames and conditions of the incoming phase. Apparently, the priorities and interests of Hadramout will be first and foremost. When it comes to the importance and position of Hadramout historically, economically and culturally, any party should not seek to change the opinions of its people, as it seems that the “uprising” launched from Hadramout won’t be the last one but will increase in a more dynamic and influential way. Despite the great demographic change that has been prepared for during the past years in some areas of the Valley, the decision to find an “alternative homeland” will face a popular rejection against the presence of the Hadi government and its affiliated parties in the governorate’s lands.

Social incubator

There is not much difference between the situation in Hadramout and that in the capital Aden regarding power duality. However, Aden is better at the political level through dividing the authority between the internationally-recognized Government and the STC in light of the Riyadh Agreement. The difference between Aden and Hadramout is illustrated in the military split between the Coast(Sahel) run by Major General. "Faraj Al-Bahsani", Governor of Hadhramaut and the Commander of both the 2nd Military District and the Hadrami Elite Forces from the one hand and the Valley(Al-Wadi) run by Major General "Saleh Timis", Commander of the 1ST Military District, which is directly subordinate to Vice President “Al-Ahmar”.

However, the local society in Hadramout feels uneasy and has doubts towards the 1ST Military District’s commanders due to the exacerbate of the assassination phenomenon and the security turmoil in Al-Wadi. For example, a security official was assassinated along with two of his companions in Seiyun in October as a result of an explosive device planted by unknown persons. Likewise, the Director General of Shibam District, Hashem Ghaleb, was also exposed to an assassination attempt in late November. These operations are among dozens of similar acts over the past years amid sharp criticism against the Yemeni Interior Minister Ibrahim Haidan who is based in Seiyun and fails to achieve tangible security measures to reduce those operations. 

The Hadrami situation could be better understood by differentiating between Sahil Hadramout districts which are characterised by high security and stability levels thanks to the “Hadrami Elite” and the 2nd  Military District Forces on the one hand and Wadi Hadramout districts in which unpopular Northern Forces are based on the other hand. The latter lack popularity as they don’t hail from Hadramout, and due to the escalation of violence and security turmoil. In spite of the demands of Hadrami local community for handing over the security and protection file to local forces from Wadi Hadramout like what happens in Al-Sahil, the insistence to remain the presence of the 1’st Military District in Wadi Hadramout reveals the desire to keep seizing the governorate’s wealth and securing oil fields related to Northern commanders and traders, top of which are Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar’s fields. 

It is worth mentioning that the rejection of carrying out moving the military forces in Hadramout and Shabwa as stipulated in the military aspect of the Riyadh Agreement was one reason behind the successive defeats of the National Army on the blazing fronts of Marib, according to local and Gulf military observers, despite the need of the army and tribes there for reinforcement and support. In turn, the STC had repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of the military forces from Wadi Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra, and directing them to fight against the Houthis. However, these demands are usually ignored or rejected.

Based on statements from high-level tribal and popular figures, it can be said that the Hadrami movement in different Sahil and Wadi districts won’t stop without “drastic treatments”(7). The message which Hadramis want to deliver shows that people are running out of patience due to the wrong policies towards the governorate. Moreover, reconsidering securing Wadi Hadramout’s areas and districts requires leaving this task to Hadrami forces which have grassroot and social incubator such as “the Hadrami Elite” which proved reliable in securing coastal cities and districts, in addition to its success in driving out al-Qaeda elements, in parallel with the UAE-led Arab Coalition forces, from Mukalla in 2016. 

Furthermore, securing a central and pivotal governorate like Hadramout which has the biggest oil sectors in Yemen and shares land borders with Saudi Arabia, in addition to major ports such as Mukalla,as well as its large wealth of natural resources should be implemented by local security forces within the Hadrami social fabric itself, as the local community there has a problem emanate from the behavior of military commanders, who mostly from North. 

Resident Fellow with South24 Center, researcher and journalist in political affairs.

- Photo: People join the popular committees in Hadhramaut, December 12, 2021 (South24)

South YemenHadhramaut