Ramadan is over, Eid el-Fitr has been and gone, and the newly elected General National Congress must now begin in earnest their unenviable task of writing a Libyan constitution. The new government will not only have to deal with pressing security concerns, but they will also have to address potentially controversial socio-political issues in order to produce a constitution which most Libyans will be happy with. National dialogue is essential, but as with any issues concerning identity, tradition and religion, conclusive answers will be hard to come by and progress is likely to be frustratingly slow.
However, there are issues that could be actively addressed with minimal controversy and relatively little effort which would not only improve living standards across the country, but also lay the groundwork for the psychological transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
There are three priority issues. The first is traffic, which in Libya’s main cities is dire. Roads are poorly maintained, there is barely any public transport, petrol is cheap (mineral water is cheaper by the litre than petrol) and drivers are reckless, rarely heeding traffic rules. While improving infrastructure and creating alternative transport will take time, a hike in petrol prices and strict enforcement of traffic laws would have an immediate effect on the level of congestion. Libyans drive everywhere because they can afford to, and they flaunt the rules of the road, despite the dangers, because that is what everyone else does and there is nothing stopping them. If drivers are forced to drive only when they need to and within the remit of the law, then the traffic choking Libya’s biggest cities could be significantly reduced. In addition, traffic law enforcement will make people realise that the authorities are taking notice and taking action. This could be the first step towards re-establishing rule of law in post-Gaddafi Libya.
The second issue is Libya’s chronic litter problem. It stems from the lack of organised, well funded rubbish collection services and the national penchant for throwing litter directly on to the street. The national waste disposal system needs a massive overhaul in all areas, but short term benefits could be reaped through funding a bigger workforce and modern vehicles to dispose of rubbish, along with strict rules about where rubbish can be dumped. Not only would the environment be cleaner and healthier, removing the litter could help kindle Libya’s fledgling tourism industry. Perhaps more importantly, cleaning the streets will show that the government is doing its job and might encourage people to consider the consequences of throwing their rubbish on the streets.
The final issue for consideration is teacher training. The most challenging issue of the three, improvement in this area is of utmost importance for Libya’s future. School curriculums have already been overhauled to omit the worst of Gaddafi’s legacy, yet it is the style of teaching which is in most desperate need of reform. By the time they leave education, students generally do not have the transferable skills the labour market is so desperate for. In Libya learning is by rote and independent thinking, problem solving and analytical approaches are nonexistent. Teachers are given little training, support or development and as a result the style of teaching hasn’t changed in decades. For real progress to be made in Libya, attitudes and approaches must change. It doesn’t matter how much debate goes on at the surface, if teachers are not trained to provide students with the skills and mind-set that Libya needs moving forward, then history is likely to repeat itself. Training will take time and money, but the sooner it starts, the sooner results will be seen.
Libyans fought for freedom, and for the most part that is what they now have: the freedom to choose their leaders, determine their future and forge their own national identity. However freedom does not mean doing whatever you want without facing the consequences. With rights come responsibilities, both for those in power and those who put them there. This is perhaps one of the tougher realities of moving away from a corrupt, authoritarian society towards a transparent model where accountability reigns supreme. For all the political and ideological debate currently raging in Libya, society has not yet been able to move away from the authoritarian prism through which it has been conditioned to see the world over the last four decades. If the National Congress are seen to be making a positive impact in areas where Gaddafi failed, then not only will it prove that the elected members are up to the job, but it will also provide a new foundation on which to rebuild Libya.