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

December 03, 2017

Libya is once again a focus of international attention because of the bloody activities of jihadist groups 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 Libya from transitioning from chaos to stabil­ity.

If Libya has become a training ground for terrorists since 2011 and a transit point for traffickers of all kinds, including migrant smugglers, it is because of the country’s failure 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. The 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 a lack of social and economic services, causing the displace­ment of hundreds of thousands at home and abroad.

This 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 that 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 of 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 infrastructure projects, can start immediately with steady oil and gas output.

New income will help finance the costly effort of collecting weapons and dismantling 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 provide many joint ventures between Libya and foreign coun­tries, 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 help ensure a speedy and sustainable return from a state of anarchy to a state of stability, democratic rule and economic prosperity.