This paper provides an historical exploration of local governance in Yemen across the past sixty years. It highlights the presence of a strong tradition of local self-rule, self-help, and participation “from below” as well as the presence of a rival, official, political culture upheld by central elites that celebrates centralization and the strong state. Shifts in the predominance of one or the other tendency have coincided with shifts in the political economy of the Yemeni state(s). When it favored the local, central rulers were compelled to give space to local initiatives and Yemen experienced moments of political participation and local development.

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