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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.