News / Economy

Yemeni Business Leaders Search for US Investment

Jeff Swicord
In a conference room of General Electric Company in downtown Washington D.C., 10 of Yemen’s most successful business leaders sit around a large table.  They are on the second stop in a five-city tour led by U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein to attract American business investment to Yemen.  They are in search of American know-how in power generation, renewable energy, agriculture, water desalination, and waste water treatment.    

The guests and their host say Yemen is at a critical juncture in its history.  Most Western headlines about Yemen focus on drone strikes and the terrorist activities of the home-grown al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  But in February of this year, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was swept from power on the coattails of the Arab Spring.  His vice president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, heads up a transitional government preparing for elections in February of 2014.  

Many regional experts think the timing is right to take on Yemen’s political, economic and security problems. 

“We believe on the one hand strategically [that] helping the Yemeni private sector develop is something that is going to contribute directly to security and stability in Yemen, and therefore more broadly in the region and the world,” said Ambassador Feierstein.

Yemen faces many challenges.  One of the poorest countries in the Middle East, 40 percent of the population faces food shortages.  There are one million acutely malnourished children in the country at risk of permanent mental and physical disability.  A third of the population is unemployed.  Militant groups have attacked government infrastructure and aid convoys.  Regular blackouts occur in the capital city Sanaa.  Roads and other infrastructure are often primitive, and clean water is in short supply.

“I think it would be challenging for American business to establish themselves in Yemen because of underlying structural concerns in the country,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a Yemen analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.  “If you start looking at what businesses need to operate in an efficient manner, Yemen’s infrastructure is not designed for that at this point.”

But Yemen’s business leaders argue that is precisely the point.  They say the change in government is transforming Yemen’s business climate.  The new government will be more open and transparent.  Changes in laws are making it easier for foreign companies to invest in the country, and companies from Europe and South Asia have already come calling.

“Yemen is still pure.  It is as they say, ‘a virgin land.’  We have to do everything from scratch.  So, it is better for those companies who would like to invest to come right now.  Now is the correct time, rather than waiting until later when the opportunities are gone,” said Wael Zokri, CEO of Griffin International, which specializes in information technology security.

There are still concerns about political stability in the country.  Groups loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are still active.  And there are other groups loyal to different members of the former government.  Under the terms of the transition, a national dialogue is to be held soon to form the structure of the new government, review the constitution, and decide on a presidential or parliamentary system.

“I think that there is quite a possibility that one of these actors will make a move that will throw the transition off course,” said Katherine Zimmerman.  “And so many have chosen to sit back, wait until some of those decisions are made, and then they will get into the game.”

The business leaders stress the security situation is much improved over a year ago.  While they acknowledge al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is still a threat, it no longer controls so-called Islamic emirates in some of the population centers in the south.  The business leaders say U.S. drone strikes and counterterrorism training provided to the Yemini military are making a difference.

“There are challenges, we cannot deny.  But we have done a lot and are willing to do much more.  Not only in the government sector, but people are fed up with these problems,” said Ahmed Jumaan, managing director of Jumaan Trading and Investment Company.  “When you compare the situation last year to today, you would find we are much better off.  So that is why we are here with confidence to call and request American partners to come.”

The business leaders say their reception in the U.S. has been very positive.  And their schedule is filling up quickly.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8896
JPY
USD
119.26
GBP
USD
0.6475
CAD
USD
1.2451
INR
USD
61.816

Rates may not be current.