A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
‘Ana Insan Madani’ can best be translated as ‘I am a citizen’. In this regular feature, we meet prominent Yemenis from various backgrounds and fields and hear their thoughts on matters related to Yemen, being a citizen and what ‘madaniya’ means to them.
Historian, community organizer and coffee innovator Mokhtar al-Khanshali envisions a world where industry empowers rather than exploits, uplifts rather than represses. Growing up between Brooklyn, San Francisco and Yemen, Mokhtar comes from an ancient lineage of coffee farmers that traces back to when the world’s first coffee was cultivated in his home province of Ibb, over five centuries ago.
In 2013 Mokhtar began focusing on his family’s roots as coffee farmers in Yemen. Seeking to reverse Yemen’s near-lost art of coffee cultivation, he founded Port of Mokha. Combining his knowledge of specialty coffee production, progressive infrastructure strategy and community organizing, Mokhtar has helped to reverse the declining quality of Yemeni coffee, restoring the coffee to its most treasured origins in Yemen. Best-selling author Dave Eggers’ forthcoming book, The Monk of Mokha, traces Mokhtar’s journey as a social entrepreneur and his harrowing escape from war-torn Yemen with his first coffee samples. Mokhtar strives to empower coffee farmers with the knowledge and tools to bring about radical improvements in the quality of their coffee – and their lives.
● What does the word madaniya / مدنية mean to you?
For me, madaniya means many things. If I had to sum it up, I would say it means safety and equality. Madaniya is where even the smallest minorities feel safe to thrive and flourish. It is a social contract formed by the people, for the people, with the goal of creating a secure and just society.
● What does homeland mean to you?
Homeland to me is a place where people have a shared historical and cultural experience. Its products are food, music, poetry, dance and a collective identity.
● What does it mean to be a citizen to you?
A citizen is someone who honors and believes in the social contract. They believe in the collective good of a people and the power of community.
● How would you describe the advantages and disadvantages of the rule of law?
The advantages and disadvantages of the rule of law depend entirely on how just or corrupt governing institutions are, which ultimately determines who the laws serve.
● When you hear the word equality, what comes to your mind?
The civil rights struggle of African Americans in the 1960s.
● Have you voted before?
● If you had the power to make one change in Yemen, what would it be and when?
I would end all corruption and have a strong government committed to providing security and justice to all of its free citizens, and I would do it in 2011.
image courtesy of Ebby Amir
● What should the world know about Yemen today?
They should know that Yemen is home to people with the softest hearts, generous hands and the most beautiful smiles. It is a country with a rich history of civilizations dating back thousands of years and has given the world many of the things we treasure today.