Oil and gas loom large in Libya’s transition from chaos

January 15, 2016

Libya is once again a focus of international attention because of the bloody activities of jihadist groups that are targeting security forces and oil installations in the country and threatening security in the Mediterranean.

Militants affiliated with the Islamist State (ISIS) and al- Qaeda would like to prevent the transition of Libya from chaos to stability.

If Libya has become a training venue for terrorists since 2011 and a transit point for traffickers of all kind, including migrant smugglers, it is because of the failure of the country to negotiate a successful transition from a chaos-based state, through which Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi governed for 43 years, to a democratic government with working institutions.

One can argue there were official institutions in Qaddafi’s Libya but those institutions were subjected to a pattern of organised anarchy orchestrated by the previous ruler and could not ensure any form of viable state building. Corruption and failed socio-economic policies planted the roots of future revolts and uprisings, which led to the fall of the regime.

Since then, there has been a new pervasive state of anarchy. Former opposition members who had no government experience or were for too long either in exile or in jail, could not fill the power vacuum or manage the country. The exercise of power turned into score-settling and civil strife. Lack of fully legitimate and effective institutions as well as the proliferation of armed groups hampered any peaceful transition.

Large segments of the Libyan population suffer from insecurity and lack of social and economic services causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands at home and abroad.

The ongoing state of destructive anarchy has not only jeopardised the well-being of Libyans but has been detrimental to the interests of the international community, including those of the West.

The approaches followed to reach a settlement to the Syria, Iraq and Yemen conflicts cannot be applied to Libya; neither can the Egyptian and Tunisian recipes.

Because of its ethnic, regional and tribal composition, as well as its political history since independence, especially the more than four decades of Qaddafi’s rule, Libya is different from other Arab countries. To ensure the transition Libyans and the world want, a different approach is needed for this sparsely populated North African country. Through their ongoing dialogue, Libyans are trying to figure that out.

One particular asset that helps Libya overcome its travails will be its natural riches. Oil and gas exports will be vital factors in the future stability in Libya, despite the vicissitudes of the world market.

Hydrocarbon exports can finance the rebuilding of military and security institutions without recourse to loans or foreign assistance. They can also provide the revenue the country needs for economic recovery. The implementation of economic programmes, especially that of infrastructure projects, can start immediately with steady oil and gas output.

New income will help finance the costly effort of collection of weapons and dismantling of armed militias. Budgets will be needed to establish secure arms depots, compensate armed individuals and groups willing to relinquish their weapons and retrain revolutionary elements in other skills beside warfare.

The resumption of Libya’s oil and gas activity will lessen the country’s dependence on Russian gas imports. Reconstruction will also provide many joint ventures between Libya and foreign nations, including investment and employment opportunities. It will spur development and stability in Libya’s neighbourhood as well.

The full resumption of hydrocarbon exports from Libya will require some time. The return to peace and normality will be an uphill battle requiring vision and perseverance but it is not too early to start planning for the sound use of oil and gas management in Libya once a sustainable political agreement is reached.

Oil and gas will definitely help ensure a speedy and sustainable return from a state of anarchy to a state of stability, democratic rule and economic prosperity.

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