In Yemen, new economically-rooted challenges currently add to longstanding political and economic obstacles facing Security Sector Reform (SSR). The sharp collapse of the currency in the territories held by the Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen (IRG), as well as the global socio-economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have compounded historical hindrances to SSR in Yemen, which include—but are not limited to—corruption, an accountability deficit, and poor professionalism.
Corrupt and unfair practices, stemming from decades of inadequate funding, have had the secondary effect of hampering any real efforts of reforming local security.
Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who ruled for a decade as Yemen’s interim President, ceded power on April 7th to an eight-member Presidential Leadership Council. The council was sworn in on April 17th during the nationwide ceasefire, in the interim capital of Aden. Rashad Al-Alimi, Hadi’s’ adviser and a seasoned Minister of Interior with experience managing Yemen’s security apparatus and reforming the police, is currently the chairman of the council. As such, he has control over the army and has the right to nominate governors and other senior officials.
The council’s’ leadership is vocally prioritizing SSR in order to unify the pro-IRG forces across areas outside Houthi control. The council created a committee, “The Joint Security and Military Committee for the Restructuring of the Armed Forces and Security,” on May 30th. Comprising 59 high-ranking officers, it is tasked with addressing the restructuring various forces in IRG territories and uniting them under one single command.
Approaching SSR in Yemen: The War Economy Context
The ongoing war in Yemen has divided the country into several areas of control, with each region dominated by state and non-state actors. Several foreign-funded armed groups have risen to prominence in this context, making accountability and security sector reform challenging. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen has highlighted war crimes committed by all armed parties to the conflict. Civilians face indiscriminate missile attacks, mines, arbitrary arrests, and torture by these groups. Indirect conflict-related hardships include extortion, land grabs, and gender-based violence. Local and international human rights groups have accused the warring parties of recruiting children as fighters, carrying out religiously motivated killings, abusing the vulnerable, and trying to set up extrajudicial courts. 
According to a 2018 white paper from the “Rethinking Yemen’s Economy” initiative, corruption has persisted throughout the ongoing conflict in accordance with historical norms, at an “accelerated pace.” However, takeover in Yemen has grown more complex. As the conflict has become more regionalized and divided the nation, patronage networks have grown around once minor — or unknown — players in the war economy.
The declining value of the Yemeni currency, the riyal, — and currency fluctuation more broadly — remain a key issue affecting local communities, especially in the IRG territories. This, in turn, has implications for Yemeni armed forces’ budget and financial sustainability. This devaluation is an inevitable consequence of the sharp drop in Yemen’s main external sources of foreign currency; a result of the global economic impact of COVID-19 and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is also, however, the outcome of rival monetary policies in Yemen. In 2019, a currency war began when the IRG printed new banknotes while also banning any currency printed in the Central Bank of Yemen in Sanaa (a Houthi-controlled branch). This resulted in reduced availability of foreign exchange, conflicting monetary policies, and the inequitable or limited distribution of payroll for public sector salaries, including army personnel.
Pursuing SSR in Yemen: The Past and Current Picture
Yemen has had turbulent experiments with SSR in the past. In 2012, interim President Hadi sought to restructure the armed forces during the transitional period in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, backed by the United Nations (UN) and foreign militaries, such as Saudi Arabia. However, personal patronage networks—entrenched in Yemeni culture and politics—proved difficult to expurgate, and a substantial number of Yemen’s armed forces remained loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, which ultimately spoiled any attempts at reform.
Inadequate financing for decades has resulted in corrupt and unjust practices by the security forces, which continue to prevent any genuine efforts of improving local security. Examples include the diversion of aid by the Houthis, the IRG, and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), and the reception of foreign and excessively high salaries from foreign powers (such as the UAE), which rival local salaries. Other issues include limited oversight mechanisms on the ground. This is not to mention the various divisions among the members of the Presidential Leadership Council, their supporters, and their regional backers.
An example of how salaries continue to drive tensions (as well as allegiances and ideologies) among soldiers can be seen in the Shabwa. In recent months, the governorate has experienced protests from troops belonging to the Shabwani Elite Forces, which are backed by the Saudi-led coalition. After the January 2022 battle for Shabwa — which ended with the Houthis’ expulsion from the governorate — the Shabwani Elite Forces, a paramilitary group that falls under the STC, merged with the new Shabwa Protection Force to bring the forces under the governor’s authority. Faced with lower pay (relative to what the group was making on the UAE’s payroll), its members rebelled. Demanding the reinstatement of their UAE salaries, the group took over major governorate roads. Similar protests are common among the security forces and continue to add to extant tensions already created by shifting political dynamics.
Against this backdrop, it’s unsurprising that many citizens have little faith in the government’s capacity to protect them. This can be seen in a 2019 survey by the Yemen Polling Center, which found that the state security apparatus is perceived by many Yemenis as somewhat ineffective—if not totally absent, are frequent.
Looking ahead: Community Perspective and Salaries
SSR is possible yet difficult to achieve. The deeply rooted war economy further complicates the context when compared to the 2010 era. In fact, the fragmentation of Yemen into disparate areas of control by the multiple actors involved in the conflict has resulted in their collective focus on economic warfare. The Overseas Development Institute observed that “the conflict has expanded to an economic war over differential public salary distribution, revenue mobilization, trade financing support and exchange rate management, affecting prices and financial transaction costs.”
In addition, both the Houthis and the IRG are fighting to reinforce — or regain — control over the country's financial sector and oil revenues. This economic context acts as a spoiler to conflict resolution and strengthens competing armed groups, ultimately weakening integration and unification mechanisms in the security sector.
To strengthen SSR efforts in Yemen, efforts should focus on increasing and enhancing civil-police relations to invigorate local accountability mechanisms. For successful policing and increased public safety, there must be trust between police agencies and the communities they serve. This can be achieved by engaging the public and human rights groups with police in projects that harness cooperation, accountability, and transparency.
Furthermore, a strong, formal, and well-funded official body —like the recently established Joint Security and Military Committee — is needed to restructure the various forces and ensure accountability.
Foreign states supporting Yemen need to dedicate resources and time toward improving the security sector in order to ensure the uninterrupted provision of salaries, secure aid durability and increase their efforts in confidence-building measures between the various forces that will be incorporated under the joint leadership.
Finally, assurances and guarantees of employment and salaries are necessary for the security forces to function. Joining an armed group is still perceived as one of the only realistic routes to employment in the country. The insufficient and intermittent payroll to soldiers’ risks incentivizing small, local conflicts that could persist regardless of whether a national conflict resolution deal is achieved. Financial instability triggers shifting allegiances on the ground, which can be easily exploited by external players still actively involved in Yemen.
 Eleonora Ardemagni, “Yemen’s Post-Hybrid Balance: The New Presidential Council.” Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. June 09, 2022.
 Ali Rabih, “Yemen Presidential Council Forms Security, Military Committee.” Asharq Al-Awsat, May 31, 2022.
 A Tragedy Without Justice: Human Rights in Yemen. Mwatana for Human Rights. 2020.
 Beyond the Business as Usual Approach: Combating Corruption in Yemen in Rethinking Yemen’s Economy. Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies. November 2018.
 Deadly Consequences: Obstruction of Aid in Yemen During Covid-19. September 14, 2020.
 “Yemeni pro-govt forces say they have retaken Shabwa from Houthis.” Reuters. January 10, 2022.
 “masadir.. muhafidh Shabwa aistakhdam al-Nukhbah al-Shabwania karisalat rad sariha ala tas’e’d al-Iintiqali dhidah.” Translation: "Sources.. Shabwa governor used the Shabwa Elite as an explicit response message to the STC's escalation against him.” Al-Janub Al-Yom. February 8, 2022.
 According to the Yemen Polling survey's findings, 10 percent of respondents believe there are no police in their neighborhood, while 27% view police activity there as positive (and percent as negative). Police were seen with less respect by the public; 11 percent said they were treated with "no respect at all," 35 percent said they were treated with "a little respect," and 41 percent were treated with "great respect." Another study done in 2013 found that 60.1 percent of respondents said that the amount of corruption in the police and formal court system was "high" or "very high," demonstrating that corruption is at the root of mistrust. “Public Perceptions of the Security Sector and Police Work in Yemen.” Major Survey Findings. Yemen Polling center 2013.2019; “Perceptions of the Yemeni Public on Security-Related Issues.” Survey Findings, Yemen Polling Center, 2019.
 Sherillyn Raga et al. Impact of conflict on the financial sector in Yemen: implications for food security. ODI. December 14, 2021.
 Brokering a Ceasefire in Yemen’s Economic Conflict. International Crisis Group. January 20, 2022.