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Towards security and good governance in Libya

The streets of Sirte were the most heavily damaged after a nine-month war between rebels and troops loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi
(Heba Aly/IRIN)

In Libya you see constant reminders of the Arab Spring and the violent end to Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule - from the bullet holes at the airport, posters of revolutionary martyrs, to the thousands of national flags on buildings.

The graffiti shows a flowering - at least in some quarters - of a new national pride, with statements like “We’re proud to be Libyan.” But the conflict has also given rise to strong expectations that reconstruction and rebirth will quickly improve the lives of ordinary people.

“Expectations are very high. Some people say the government has done nothing. But actually the government has done a lot of work on security. But not everyone is aware of this,” Essam Garbaa, a senior official at the Ministry of Planning, told IRIN.

“People are not being reasonable - we need time to organize ourselves.”

Despite being one of the most violent Arab Spring revolutions, Libya two years after the first protests has yet to witness the demonstrations seen in recent weeks in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

But that does not mean the current peace is secure, and humanitarian issues remain.

Sixty thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) await an eventual return home, thousands are still being detained in prisons outside government control, and Libyans in the southern deserts frequently lack access to many basic services.

The main phase of humanitarian operations was closed at the end of 2011, and agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP), donor organizations like European aid body ECHO and international NGOs like Save the Children have pulled out.

They have left behind a country which continues to face humanitarian issues, many linked to the post-conflict environment, but which has the potential to support itself.

“The humanitarian situation doesn’t require a typical kind of logistical humanitarian support,” said Georg Charpentier, UN deputy special representative and resident coordinator in Libya.

“Toxic combination”

In an environment with high expectations, an inexperienced government and tens of thousands of armed fighters on the streets, the focus of the UN and donors is on supporting the transition process to avoid another breakdown in law and order.

“Most Libyan people have guns now and we will move very soon over these challenges. Most Libyan people want a peaceful, well-organized country - they want a return to stability,” said Garbaa.

The return to pre-conflict oil production levels of around 1.5 million barrels a day means there is money available for the country’s six million people. But that also puts pressure on those in charge.

“We have very little time,” Carel de Rooy from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IRIN. “This toxic combination of very high expectations, loads of money and institutions inexperienced in delivering rapid results is a dangerous combination, and time is not a luxury we should count on.”

LibAid’s role

Capacity-building in the humanitarian sector has focused on LibAid, set-up in 2006 when Gaddafi was still in charge, and run as a semi-autonomous government humanitarian operation.

With UN support, it runs the main database of IDPs and carries out food distributions to the 10,000 IDP families.

“Libya is a very rich country but we need to build capacity, we need expertise on how to build things and advice. Actually, we have enough resources but we need international capacity-building support, and we can share experiences,” said Mohamed Al Sweii, an adviser on international cooperation and coordination with LibAid.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) remains on the ground with a small team, although they do not have a formal agreement with the government.

Last month it delivered winter supplies of blankets, hygiene kits, plastic sheeting and shoes to detention centres in Sabrata and Surman, as well as to centres in the south.

They still work on monitoring conditions at IDP camps and, despite the work of LibAid, they have found they have had to stay involved longer than planned.

“I thought we would disengage much quicker. We had in mind June 2012 for an end of assistance and then a kind of phasing out from July onwards to December… We’re readjusting now,” said head of mission Emmanuel Gignac.

“The problems aren’t solved and it’s taken more time. We thought Libya, as an oil-producing country - of course a rich country - would very quickly be able to kick in and take over and not need any support. Why would they need support with all the money they have? But actually you realize that this isn’t the case.”


Money can certainly be a help in avoiding the biggest danger for post-conflict countries - slipping back into violence: The government has the means to pay the assortment of fighters who helped overthrow Gaddafi.

But insecurity remains a concern in many places, and this month militia roadblocks returned to Tripoli. Gunfire is regularly heard, even if it seems in many cases guns may only be fired in celebration.

“We have very little time”, Carel de Rooy from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)


An international conference in Paris earlier in February between officials from around 10 countries including France, Germany, USA, Qatar and Turkey, as well as representatives from organizations like the EU, UN, Arab League and African Union, and the Libyan government, put security and justice high on the agenda - “it’s really the two areas where this sort of shift from this revolutionary state of mind to one of building new institutions and moving forward has to really take place,” said Charpentier.

A widespread reorganization of militia forces remains for the future, but the importance of reintegration and demobilization is emphasized by donors.

“In every post-conflict situation, I think the international community has learned about the importance of integrating ex-fighters to avoid the negative impact of having militia groups and paramilitaries. If we can help in this regard, we will do what we can”, Peter Stano, spokesperson for Štefan Füle, Commissioner in charge of Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy at the European Commission (EC), told IRIN.

The EC has a 25 million euro aid programme this year to support the democratic transition; to improve security and the rule of law, education and health care, including a vocational programme that aims to reduce youth unemployment and contribute to integrating ex-fighters.

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is running programmes for military officers, including former revolutionaries, on the importance of international humanitarian law.

The last 12 months have seen several incidents of insecurity, provoking temporary surges in the number of IDPs, such as renewed fighting in October around the town of Bani Walid.

Humanitarian agencies say further incidents are likely, particularly before any widespread disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), and reconciliation projects are realized.

These areas can be sensitive ones for international organizations, but some low-level work has been carried out to improve community relations.

With Mercy Corps, UNHCR has been carrying out negotiating training with IDP community leaders, “basically to give them skills and tools to enable them to talk to each other, and of course when these events were organized it involved the different parties, so already the workshops themselves were an opportunity for them to see each other too in a neutral place, in more of a learning atmosphere,” said Gignac.


Improving governance

“The primary risks we’re facing are related to security and the overall post-conflict setting, but also the weak administration that’s a legacy of the Gaddafi era and the lack of a public sector culture of running a state for its citizens,” said Stano.

The underlying message from the aid community is that a key challenge for sustainable peace is an effective government, equipped and resourced to improve the conditions of its citizens.

“The revolution brought a lot of challenges - no-one senior in the government has any experience in governing at this high level even if they are highly qualified. Previously it was just Gaddafi and his inner circle. We can see the same thing in Tunisia and Egypt - the new ministers don’t have experience at this level,” said the Planning Ministry’s Garbaa.

The government has shown itself open to outside technical support, providing such expertise is suited to the context.

“If one brings in the right expertise - high-level, fluent Arabic speaking, one can have an important impact… The situation now has moved quite clearly and dramatically from an array of humanitarian interventions to a developmental agenda, much more upstream work,” said UNICEF’s de Rooy.

Capacity-building, aid workers say, is the key to building a sustainable peace.

“For those who are here, the international community who are here in the country, that’s very well understood, but I’m not sure that donors out there, or the donor community, or even within our own agencies - that there is a full understanding that what this country needs in the short to medium term is high level technical assistance to respond to their specific challenges and achieve rapid tangible results.”



This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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