Cleaning up the city
One of the initiatives worth praising is cleaning up the city, which used to be the responsibility of the municipality alone. As a part of the new initiative, youth groups and popular committees created by locals contributed to this. The motto was that, “We want to have the cleanest Eid in the capital.”
Involving citizens in cleaning up the city is a great idea but one that has many challenges, especially cultural.
Yemenis unfortunately have a problem in what I would like to call the “responsibility space.” For example, they believe their responsibility is to the inside of their homes, but the pavement just outside their gates is not their responsibility. Or that they have the obligation to take care of their car, but the street where they drive is not their business.
Expanding our responsibility as citizens to outside our personal domain needs much more than state initiatives. Youth volunteers are a good sign, but their work remains as individual initiatives and very much based on selective choice and not on sense of obligation toward the larger community.
I believe the new mayor has some good ideas up his sleeve. When he was governor of Mukalla for six years, he launched several initiatives that lobbied interest among citizens to public responsibility. For example, he launched a campaign to paint the walls of public places depicting scenes from the local community. The walls displayed sketches of fishermen in the sea, women carrying water, children playing traditional games, historical landmarks, etc.
The residents of Mukalla felt pride in their local traditions and enjoyed seeing their own lives displayed for all. This also attracted local and international tourists. Another example he created in Mukalla was launching a competition for having a logo for the governorate. Entries came from as far as the U.S., where Yemenis abroad wanted to give their input as to what their hometown symbol should be.
These two initiatives built public ownership and pride. The citizens took care that the paintings on the walls of the city were nicely maintained, and hence, they made efforts to keep them clean.
I hope that Sana’a’s new mayor can bring his experience to the capital and inspire locals to take ownership and pride in their city. Cleaning up the city is the first step; we need to think beyond that. We need to think of how to make it more beautiful, greener and friendlier.