Al-Makha: Challenges Hindering the Exploitation of Available Opportunities

Promising Opportunities in Economic Development
Prof. Mohammed Ali Qahtan
June 18, 2024

Al-Makha: Challenges Hindering the Exploitation of Available Opportunities

Promising Opportunities in Economic Development
Prof. Mohammed Ali Qahtan
June 18, 2024
Photo by: Hamza Mustafa – Khuyut

Al-Makha (Mocha), west of Taiz, is considered the most important urban center along the governorate's coastal strip. It is situated in the middle of this strip, which extends from the outskirts of the Al-Khokha district of Al-Hodeida governorate, from the north of the city down to the Bab al-Mandab area of the Dhubab district, overlooking the international strait "Bab al-Mandab," covering a longitudinal distance of 138 kilometers.

Yemen's port city of Mocha, which covers an area of approximately 1,617 square kilometers, is located 100 kilometers away from the city of Taiz and 75 kilometers from the entrance of Mayyun Island, which overlooks the Bab al-Mandab strait. It is an ancient city with a history dating back to pre-Islamic times, as evidenced by the ancient Yemeni Himyarite inscriptions.

On the other hand, fishing is the predominant occupation for the district's residents, estimated at about 80,000. It surpasses many other activities, such as trade, agriculture, livestock breeding, traditional crafts like pottery and ceramic goods, and other freelance professions.

The city of Mocha has been known as a commercial center since the 17th century because it hosted one of the most important ports in the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf countries, and the Horn of Africa. Yemeni coffee, long known for its coffee trade, known as "Mocha Coffee," which was renowned worldwide for its high quality at the time, was exported from this port to global markets. The port also exported other Yemeni goods, notably aloes, incense, and miswak sticks, and was the primary maritime gateway for Yemeni imports from the outside world, especially from Southeast Asia, which included incense, spices, and fabrics.

Currently, the most important imports in this port are the livestock, due to its proximity to the ports of exporting countries such as Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, as there are two livestock quarantine facilities: an older one within the port premises and another regional one outside the port campus.

The above information is based on a thorough investigation and real-life experience by the writer during a personal visit to the city of Mocha in early February 2024, which lasted two weeks. Furthermore, we can elaborate on the opportunities and challenges that Mocha city is currently facing based on our findings.

Available Opportunities

The city of Mocha constitutes a significant pillar of sustainable economic and social development. It has the potential to bring about a substantial transformation in the lives of the local community in Taiz Governorate. At the same time, it can also contribute greatly to the desired economic revival and advancement to combat and address the issue of unemployment and poverty in Yemen.

“The persistence of smuggling, which is a long-standing activity in the coastal strip, coupled with the failure to activate the port for commercial maritime transport, represents one of the most important challenges to exploiting available opportunities, alongside the absence or weakness of basic infrastructure such as roads, streets, electricity, water networks, and public services.”

Thus, by identifying the most important opportunities available, the location, terrain, climate, area, and population are at the forefront. These characteristics constitute important elements for economic and social development. The city of Mocha is situated on one of the most important shores of the Red Sea, overlooking one of the major international maritime routes, and is characterized by attractive features for development in terms of topography, climate, and the wide geographical area extending to the most important districts of Taiz Governorate (Dhubab or Bab al-Mandab, Mawza'a, Al-Wazi'iyah, and Maqbanah), which collectively form more than half of the governorate's total area of 10,032 km2, inhabited by a relatively small population.

Likewise, the population of the five coastal districts mentioned does not exceed 13% of the total population of the governorate, which is estimated at around four million people, according to the population projections based on the results of the last national census conducted in Yemen in 2004. Additionally, there are many other economic resources and potentials in this port city.

Moreover, the city of Mocha hosts the most crucial economic resources and potentials of Taiz Governorate, such as the port, which, as mentioned earlier, is the oldest port in Yemen and in the Arabian Peninsula and the Arabian Gulf region and is distinguished by its proximity to the international maritime route of the Bab al- Mandeb Strait. Additionally, an international airport was established two years ago near the port, with the potential for expansion to become one of the Yemen's major international airports, given the favorable geographical characteristics of the airport’s location and factors for modernization and development.

It is also distinguished by having a wide corniche, extending over long distances, and boasting unique, high-quality international tourism standards. Further, it has the potential to be one of the main pillars of sustainable economic and social development in several fields, the most important of which is tourism, given its importance for revitalizing all economic activities and addressing unemployment and poverty.

In this context, Mocha city is also characterized by the availability of other economic opportunities. For example, hosting a steam power plant for electricity generation along with a residential city for workers. Before the war, this plant contributed to generating a high percentage of Yemen's electricity needs. However, it is currently out of operation due to damages sustained during the conflict, and it has not yet been repaired or brought back into service.

There is also a suitable environment for producing alternative energy, such as wind and solar power. In this aspect, there are ongoing projects in the field of solar energy, but they have been placed under private investment, which has resulted in high selling prices for their electricity units, exceeding the purchasing power of citizens to meet their needs. At the same time, the high prices of these units contribute to the increased cost of goods and services, as well as the possibility of desalinating sea water for domestic and industrial uses.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning an important sector represented by the fisheries wealth. Actually, the activity of fishermen is noticeable while entering the sea and returning with abundant quantities of fish of various types and high quality, reflecting the richness of the marine waters near the city's shore, abundant with fish stocks. Further, the fish are known as a renewable resource that contributes to employing the youth of Mocha city and can be increased and developed, becoming one of the most important factors for development in the province if fishing methods are improved and this sector is given the proper attention. In addition to these available opportunities, there are many development factors that are available but not utilized properly and fully, including the fertility of the land and the availability of suitable conditions for agriculture.

Multiple Challenges

However, there are numerous challenges hindering the exploitation of the available development opportunities mentioned above. Thus, the failure to address these challenges could keep this important city marginalized as it was in the past, with its resources and economic development potential disabled. Among the most prominent challenges we have clearly witnessed, they can be summarized as follows:

  • Government Administration: The management of state institutions in the city lacks proper attention and can be described as traditional, missing many requirements of modern administrative work. Therefore, If these institutions are updated and developed, they could become the most important urban centers in the governorate, and perhaps in Yemen, due to their potential for urban and modern development.
  • The absence of urban planning; it has been noted that there is a high level of interest in developing urban plans, and actually, the work has begun to project them on the ground. However, many obstacles can negatively affect the completion of this very important aspect of developing the city of Mocha and exploiting its development potential. The most important of these obstacles include the following:

– Mismanagement of State Lands and Properties: Attempts to seize lands owned by citizens for decades under the pretext that they belong to the state, as if the owners are not citizens of the state, despite their willingness to accept the urban planning being implemented on their owned lands without compensation or resistance.

– Prohibition of Property Maintenance and Construction: People are prevented from maintaining their homes or building new ones according to the urban plan under the same pretext of "state lands". Consequently, the continuation of this situation will be a major deterrent to urban development and construction in the city.

  • The obsolescence of the port and the lack of attention to expediting its modernization, development, and entry into service.
  • The military presence in the port, airport, corniche, and downtown area, with forces stationed inside the port and adjacent areas, including the airport and corniche. The military camps are also noticeable in the city center, which poses a significant obstacle to the urban plan of the city and will hinder development if the camps are not relocated outside the city.
  • Windborne dust due to the city's corniche is not paved and ready for tourist services, in addition to the lack of asphalting the streets that are constructed, including the corniche street. The city also lacks windbreak trees; although tree planting has begun, it is limited and insufficiently maintained.
  • Moreover, the persistence of smuggling activities, which is a long-standing practice along the coastal strip, coupled with the failure to activate the port for commercial maritime transport, represents one of the most important challenges to exploiting available opportunities, alongside the absence or weakness of basic infrastructure such as roads, streets, electricity, water networks, and public services.

Potential for Growth in Mocha City 

Based on the above, we conclude that if the challenges and obstacles that I have mentioned are addressed and also the reconstruction and investment are encouraged, the city of Mocha can become the most important urban city and will witness rapid growth in all fields that constitute opportunities available to the city. Likewise, it can be an important center for development and an attractive environment for local and international investments, given its connection to a wide geographical area rich in resources and economic components, in addition to the existence of promising investment agendas.

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