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From spring into summer: key peacebuilding actions for Libya

Libyans face the complex challenge of creating a new order and a new society from the rubble of the old. Lessons learned elsewhere on peacebuilding and statebuilding offer a checklist and an evidence-based framework for action.

The urgency, passion and short-term focus of the fight against Gadaffi is coming to an end as his family flees to Algeria and his villas are being taken over, after four long decades of oppression and arbitrary rule. By comparative standards their fight has been short, bloodless and effective. In contrast, the second Sudanese civil war lasted 22 years and the Kivus are still in the thrall of the second Congo war (1998-2003). Libyan courage, NATO’s military assistance, global public opinion and financial as well as material assistance from Arab countries have helped carry the day. As Alison Pargeter argues, Libyans now face the much more complex challenge of creating a new order and a new society from the rubble of the old. And there are many lessons to learn about how to build a better peace more quickly, from countries emerging from conflict such as Timor-Leste, Kosovo, Burundi, Sudan and Nepal.

The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding has generated an evidence-based framework for action on the basis of these lessons. It argues that this better peace involves three key elements. First, immediate goals must focus on creating a state, security, justice, economic opportunities and services for all. Second, Libyans must take the lead in identifying their needs. Experience shows they will be well advised to do so via a process of internal political dialogue that benefits from broad social and tribal representation and leadership. In support of these priorities, Libya and the international community should agree an assistance package that commits both sides to a clear set of priorities, and resources. Finally, the international community needs to ensure its support is long-term, transparent and focused on building much needed institutional capacity.

Libya is a large country geographically, but has a relatively small population of around 6.5 million. This is also a young population, on average 25 years, concentrated along the coast. Socially, Libya is largely homogeneous, Arab and Sunni Muslim. Economically, oil revenues generate about a quarter of the Libyan GDP, 80% of government income and drive foreign direct investment. Yet unemployment remains a good 20% and redistribution issues persist. The business sector requires further economic liberalization. Geopolitically, Libya matters because of its potential spill-over effect on Egypt and Algeria, because of oil and because it can become an alternative model for western intervention, as compared to Iraq or Afghanistan. Politically, the National Transitional Council (NTC) is a young institution that seems to manage in what is otherwise a desert of institutional dysfunction.

A framework for action

The peacebuilding goal of ‘creating a state for all’ is the core challenge for post-Gadaffi Libya. Large parts of the current government and population are associated with the Gadaffi regime and hence run the risk of being sidelined in the new Libyan political order. Yet the experience shows that political exclusion can well be a recipe for the next conflict, however unpalatable that may seem. In Lebanon and Iraq, conflict involving Hezbollah and the Ba’ath party have taught clear lessons in this regard. Moreover, large parts of society, tribal and regional, will seek representation for their own particular issues now that they can. This could easily generate a multitude of competing demands leading to friction in the current institutional vacuum. Although the NTC seems accepted for the moment, both nationally and internationally, it will have to improve its transparency and legitimacy quickly once the conflict ends.

Research suggests that partial democracies are one of the most unstable forms of governance. The NTC could, however, initiate a long-term process of political dialogue that offers Libyan society a change to discuss how it wishes to be governed in the future. But this is a complex political and psychological process and evidence suggests five preconditions must be taken to heart if dialogue is to be successful: adequate preparation, credible facilitation, sufficient political commitment, collective leadership capability, and adequate levels of inclusion. The NTC’s challenge will be akin to the one facing the military in Egypt: it must govern the country effectively (citizens will expect results) while taking the time and patience to allow dialogue to unfold at its own pace. Leaders who can reach beyond their immediate interests and who are capable of forming coalitions across political and social divides will be of the essence.

Meanwhile, the challenge for international actors is not to pressure this process, however much they may wish to avoid an Islamic or an imperfect democratic state on the Mediterranean. Experiences in Somalia and Afghanistan show that little good is likely to come of it.

Ensuring security and justice

For the key peacebuilding goal of ensuring security for all, two short-term critical priorities are likely to be the reduction of the availability of weapons and basic street safety. Libya is awash with weapons today. Combined with high unemployment, unresolved governance issues, tribal power and a lack of effective institutions, this is dangerous because it reduces the threshold to engage in both political violence and criminality. The conflicts in the Great Lakes region and West-Africa have powerfully shown the perpetuating dynamic of violence that results from the availability of weapons. Apart from trying to ensure that any process of political dialogue is inclusive and makes progress, another way of averting this outcome is to stimulate disarmament with economic incentives. This will be helped by a decisive rebel victory, which would ensure there will be no mistrustful factions facing each other off, as was the case in the peace processes in Sudan, the DRC and even Ireland. A third way is to ensure basic safety quickly in a transparent manner. Other Arab states may be able to provide valuable temporary support if welcomed by Libyans. A long-term priority will be the gradual improvement of the effectiveness and accountability of the Libyan security institutions.

Making progress against the peacebuilding goal of realizing justice for all will be helped by minimizing revenge-taking to settle the many grievances that accumulated under Gadaffi’s long reign. Extrajudicial killings are already occurring and this must be stopped, both from a human rights perspective and to prevent a new set of grievances from building up. This challenge is formidable. The formal Libyan justice system under Gadaffi will have to be re-built from scratch. As in many post-conflict situations, the most feasible short-term solution might lie in reviving or enabling more traditional social forms of justice provision as the last resort. Yemen, Rwanda and Colombia and many other countries make use of such methods. Yet, the international community is often reluctant to do this for fear of human rights violations. It therefore needs to be established as soon as possible what Libyans consider just. The international community should share experiences, in particular from the Arab world, provide funds and assistance and build capacity in line with Libyan views.

EU trade opportunities and the economy

Creating economic opportunities for all will be another critical peacebuilding priority in Libya. As in Tunesia and West-Africa opportunities are limited, the working population large and fast-growing. Because most of Libya is desert, creating employment by modernizing agriculture is not an option. Yet, a fast and substantial improvement in prospects is needed. Libya, fortunately, has two assets. First, it can invest the money from its profitable oil and gas businesses. This greatly reduces dependence on external actors. Timor-Leste, which shares this characteristic with Libya, set up a sovereign wealth fund for this purpose, akin to the Norwegian model, and recently became EITI-compliant to ensure sustainable and transparent use of revenues. This is a path Libya can emulate. Second, Libya’s proximity to the EU make possible a comprehensive trade deal with its biggest trading partner, building on strong UK and French support during the conflict. Opening its markets to create short-term opportunities and its educational institutions to help build a better trained workforce in the long-run can be a cheap and attractive way for the EU to contribute to a peaceful Libya. The leadership challenge for the EU is to sell such a deal to its Islam-migration-fearing-electorates, as becomes clear from Polly Pallister-Wilkins contribution on current EU-Libyan migration agreements.

Finally, it would appear that the provision of services needs to be substantially restored and improved. Before the conflict, the Libyan state already provided free universal health care and education, although the quality of both needs improvement. Libya was also on track to realize all the Milennium Development Goals by 2015. Focused interventions to restore services in these areas could make all the difference, possibly with the support of Arab sovereign wealth funds, private foundations and the Millennium Challenge Cooperation.

Of course, the Libyans must take the lead in identifying and prioritizing their needs. A coherent set of goals can only be established on the basis of a careful analysis. Yet, the framework above offers guiding posts.

To ensure coherent and integrated support, the international community under UN leadership, should agree to draw up a compact with Libya that sets out resources, modalities and accountability structures commensurate with existing capacity and the quality of the process of assessment and political dialogue Libyans intend to follow.

With its booming oil industry, aid money may not matter much, but the international community can offer critical support in knowledge transfer, institution- and capacity building. The Dili compact in Timor-Leste offers an example of what such a deal could look like. This should initially generate a single plan that addresses critical priorities only and that is revised in one year periods. This will help ensure sufficient flexibility to respond to political developments in a dynamic context. Unfortunately there are too many examples of countries that have been buried under plans that were driven by different parts of the international community and that cover every possible issue under the sun. The parallel existence of a peacebuilding strategy and a multi-annual poverty reduction strategy in Burundi is a good example.

As well as rigorous prioritization, international support must have a horizon of at least 5-10 years. Yet, the predictability of aid flows often does not go beyond a year while UN mandates can be as short as 6-12 months. We know this is too short to make a difference.

International support, cautious not to become too involved and yet keen to avoid an Algerian style conflict or a safe haven for Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, will be constrained by budget deficits, US presidential elections, Arab aloofness and experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the citizens of Libya will have high expectations, and while the eyes of the world are on Libya, now is the time for all sides to get it right.

About the author

Erwin van Veen (@ErwinVeen) is a senior research fellow in the Conflict Research Unit at Clingendael in The Netherlands. 


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