Jamila Ali Raja speaks to the Yemen Times
Playing a role as a Yemeni mediator and respected political activist, Jamila Ali Raja is currently engaged in the preparation for national dialogue and outreach grassroots meetings from various parties.
Her concern and hope is that there will be more coordination among these parties and between them and the coalition government.
“I believe that I am a good mediator, and would like to utilize my skills and connections to help political groups reconcile differences,” said Ali Raja.
Her work as an independent consultant and activist in politics, development, gender and media has given her an edge over many other political movers and shakers.
“I have just returned from Potsdam in Berlin after participating in the first unofficial high level meeting, sponsored by the Berghof Foundation, to explore the possibility of a successful inclusive dialogue,” she added.
Jamila Ali Raja has also been instrumental in the women’s movement in Yemen and in helping women reach a consensus on their demands from transition, and their role in the new system.
“A lot of my work would go to support women in becoming real players in the transition,” said Raja, who is currently working on an advocacy campaign plan with technical support from Oxfam to empower women during the transitional period.
She believes this campaign will be different from efforts previously undertaken because it will be conducted in an unorthodox way. The advocacy will not only be the about the number of women to be included in all the GCC brokered pacts, such as the interpretation committee, but these women will be selected according to specific terms of reference to ensure quality.
“We are going to lobby and use personal contacts, connections and networking,” she explained.
The advocacy campaign in the future will have a fixed structure and admin team to ensure the operations go ahead systematically and in a sustainable manner, as well as a steering committee. There is still work to be done concerning getting grants to fund the admin team, but she is positive that this will work out soon.
First high level meeting in Berlin
The meeting was an explorative mission to start trust building among political stakeholders. She believes it was positive and promising. Among the political leaders present were Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Eryani and Abdulqader Hilal of the GPC, Dr. Yaseen Saeed Noman and Abdulwahab Al-Anisi of the JMP, Yahya Al-Houthi of the Houthis and Haidar Al-Attas and Hussain Al-Fadhli from the Southern Movement.
The meeting was called for by the Yemeni Political Forum presented by Ali Saif Hasan and Jamila Al-Raibi, organized by the Berghof Institute and facilitated by the German Embassy.
“We did not go into details; the main purpose of the meeting was to come up with ideas to prepare for a positive atmosphere and to build trust among the political players, which is the basis for the success of any dialogue,” she said.
The meeting concluded that there were certain measures to be taken for trust building to happen. The first action should be on behalf of the president who should contact all those who were not included in the signing of the GCC accord.
“The national dialogue conference should be the concluding, crowning event of many smaller dialogue meetings with the Hirak, the Houthis , the youth and others,” insisted Jamila Ali Raja. “The dialogue process will be useless if we jump into the conference before any trust building and serious communication takes place to deal with issues like the new modern civil state, the political system, the amendment or of the constitution, etc.”
Also Jamila Ali Raja was clear that, “The dialogue cannot start or succeed without solving the security and military situation.”
The national dialogue conference is estimated to include a large number of participants who should have already debated and agreed among each other on ways forward for the transition.
The plan for the dialogue has to be urgently planned by a preparatory committee and this committee should map the outreach efforts by different donors and document their outcomes and check their validity for the general approach. Most of those events were grass root based and this meeting in Berlin is the first high level meeting for inter-dialogue,” said Raja.
The meeting in Berlin had the advantage that it was at the leaders’ level.
One of the agreed upon points from the meeting was to have dialogue references. At the international level these would be UN Security Council resolutions no. 924 and 931 for the year 1994, the UN Security Council resolution no. 2014 for the year 2012, and the time-lined GCC roadmap plan. At the regional level the references will include the GCC brokered initiative and the agreements supervised by Qatar between the Houthis and the previous government.
At the local level it includes: the general objectives of the Hirak, the Houthi movement and the youth revolution, plus all the agreements reached between the government and the Houthis.
There are already several signs for reconciliation and trust building, according to Jamila Ali Raja. For example, Ali Mohsen’s announcement a few weeks ago that he was ready to apologize to the Houthis for the wars he waged against them is an excellent step.
Other examples showing the government’s seriousness in dealing with the youth’s grievances is the raising of the salaries of civil servants, 60,000 new jobs, medical treatment for the victims of the 2011 uprising and compensation for the victims’ families.
Also there are the changes in some of the military leaders such as in the south.
“These measures indicate good will but they must be immediately followed by practical implementation and other steps to show seriousness,” she said. “The president should deliver serious messages either personally or better through a public speech to address the political stakeholders by name and acknowledge them and their causes.”
Next steps for the national dialogue
Any talk about having a conference now is a big mistake, according to Jamila Ali Raja. Smaller meetings should proceed. A preparatory committee should be created by the president of the republic. The committee should equally represent all political parties as well as NGOs and other social groups.
“It should be independent from the government. And it should start by organizing a plan for the dialogue process,” she says.
Following the Berlin meeting, the next steps as she sees it is that each participant in this informal meeting will return to his group and enlighten them with the outcomes and pursue their participation in the next meeting with practical input. However, Jamila thinks that if the Houthis, youth, southerners, etc., sense trust and see some changes on the ground, the possibility of their full participation will be higher.
Who is Jamila Ali Raja?
Jamila Ali Raja is one of Yemen’s female pioneers who has managed to make a strong impression in the political arena both locally and internationally. She has a masters in media from the American University in Cairo and has been a diplomat for over 15 years.
She held the position of Advisor to the Foreign Ministry held since the creation of the coalition government, but resigned in protest to the killing of protestors in March 2011. She is well respected among all political stakeholders in the country.
Aside from her positions in government, Jamila Ali Raja founded a consultancy firm called Consult-Yemen, which she is running today. Her consultancy is based on her personal strengths in politics, media, human rights, gender and development.
She was one of the consultants behind the initiative to establish an Independent Human Rights Institute in Yemen funded by the EU. She also visited the Human Rights Commissions in Denmark and South Africa, and helped review the draft law for a IndependentYemeni Human Rights Institute.
Another of her recent activities was being part of an assessment mission to Sa’ada to evaluate the human rights situation resulting from the military confrontation between the Houthis and the Salafists in the Dammaj area. She also played the role of a mediator and facilitator between humanitarian organizations and the Houthis in 2011.
She attended the first Southern Conference in Cairo in Feb. 2011, and has been active in bringing Yemeni political factions in the south together.
Raja’s recent significant contribution to the media scene was a research paper on the current concerns and realities of Yemen’s media, in which she advocates turning the state media into public entities, and promoting a law that allows media freedom in Yemen.
She has played a key role in promoting the role of women in Yemeni politics, including:
- Designing and implementing a road map for Yemeni women’s consultative groups in the 2009 and 2011 (postponed) parliamentary elections preparations.
- Participating in preparing a training guidebook for Yemeni women leadership in political parties.
- Being Safety Net and Gender Evaluator in the Country Program Evaluation portfolio of the WFP/Yemen DAI, 2011.
- Being National Manger for IPEC/ILO on working children’s rights.
- Designing an information and communication strategy for working women at the Ministry of Labor.
Other than her various consultancies, Jamila Ali Raja also writes articles for Yemeni and international media related to corruption, development and other political issues. She was editor in chief of a newspaper issued from the Yemeni Media Center in Cairo.