Libya: Tragedy of a promising nation

A handout picture released by the German NGO Jugend Rettet on April 16, 2017 shows migrant swimming next to their sinking boats before a rescue operation off the mediterranean Libyan coast. / AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO AND JUGEND RETTET / STRINGER / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / JUGEND RETTET / HO ” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The NATO-led military campaign which eventually destroyed Libya started in early 2011 and Muammar Khadafi, the Libyan leader was killed in October the same year by dissident groups. Since then, the country has not known peace and the crisis is still raging. 

Libya under Khadafi was an epitome of development and good governance. It had the highest Human Development Index (HDI) in Africa, which is an aggregate of living standards, such as, access to education, medical services, potable water and such amenities which make life comfortable and worthwhile for ordinary people. Libyans were not paying water rates, electricity bills and income taxes.  

A newly married couple would be entitled to a free furnished apartment by the state and, in addition, substantial sums of money to settle into their new life. 

Libya had a population of about seven million people out of which two million are migrant workers mainly from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and different African countries including Nigeria. The migrants worked in hotels, farms and construction sites.

Some owned provision shops, restaurants, barbing salons, electrical and mechanic workshops and were doing well.  The population of migrant workers was not a problem because the territory of Libya is vast. It has a land mass of over two million square kilometers which is well over twice the size of Nigeria. 

Moreover, Libya was immensely wealthy with a foreign currency reserve of over 150 billion USD, accumulated from oil and gas revenues.

The gold reserve was estimated at about 140 tonnes.  It had no internal or external debts. With such wealth, Khadafi did not only welcome other African nationals  to his country, he also wanted to assist African  countries out of poverty, underdevelopment and dependency on international monetary institutions, which with their stifling structural adjustment  programmes rarely address the problems of poverty, but deepened it. 

Khadafi created the Libyan African Investment company (LAICO) and Libya Africa Portfolio (LAP) through which Libya invested heavily in African countries in telecommunications, agriculture, hospitals, schools, real estates, entertainment, hotels, oil and gas. Khadafi had a soft spot for black Africans generally and many of his closest personal aides were black Libyans. 

Libya was a beehive of activities with massive construction works, mainly in housing by companies from South Korea, China, Turkey, Europe and America. 

The migrants were doing well and enjoying the vast benefits offered by the Libyan state on education, healthcare and cheap cost of living.  The civil war changed the situation dramatically. The breakdown of law and order after the  assassination of Khadafi, and the subsequent civil war, left hundreds of thousands of migrants  stranded.

Most of them opted to brave what they thought may be a temporary situation, but the situation never got better. It rather escalated.  Opportunists exploited the chaotic situation to perpetrate barbarous atrocities such as the slave trade, human trafficking and organ harvesting which is now being exposed to the world. 

It is worth mentioning that the crisis which engulfed several Arab countries, including Libya emanated from Tunisia, when a young street vendor set himself ablaze after he was assaulted by a police officer. This act of desperation ignited the ‘Arab Spring,’ widespread riots which engulfed Libya and other Arab countries. 

The demonstrations in the city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city were joined by members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a radical anti-Khadafi group linked to Alqaida. The armed face-off with Khadafi soldiers escalated after the Libyan Ministers of Defence and Justice joined the rebellion. 

The asymmetric clashes between the government and rebel groups led to several civilian casualties which the international news media exaggerated and reported as willful massacre of civilians. 

France, USA and the United Kingdom presented a dubious resolution before the UN Security Council to authorise military intervention to protect the civilian population. 

The endorsement of the intervention by the African Union (AU) represented at that time by South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria prevented China and Russia from vetoing the resolution and the green light was given to bring down the Libyan regime. 

The air strikes began and Khadafi was captured by a rebel group and murdered after his convoy was intercepted and destroyed by NATO fighter planes. 

Libya thereafter turned into a state of anarchy with small groups of militias controlling portions of Libyan territory. In the midst of the chaos, the American Ambassador to Libya was murdered in Benghazi. 

Saif Al Islam, the anointed successor and second son of Khadafi had in his own confession blamed himself for the crisis of Libya.

This may be true to some extent. Saif tried to moderate some of the eccentric ways of his father and mollify the anti-West rhetoric. He went to school in London and obtained a doctorate degree from the UK. He made a handsome donation to the London School of Economics.

These were all to placate and improve the relationship with Western countries. His brother Khamis, an officer in the Libyan Army was on tour of USA military establishments when the military campaign against Libya started. He was eventually killed in action. 

In the course of the new rapprochement between Libya and the West, Saif was cajoled to dismantle the Air Defence systems and other military programs which would have deterred an invasion or aerial attack of the country. 

This error of judgement was fatal. Saif and Libya paid heavily for it. Three of his brothers were killed in the war. He was captured and eventually set free by his captors and what became of him is for now unknown. 

The Libyan story should serve as a lesson for Africa and the world. Africa missed out on what Khadafi would have offered in solving the continent’s numerous problems of underdevelopment and poverty. The weapons looted from Libya’s armories are now fueling insurgents and terrorist groups in Sub Saharan Africa.

To stem youth unrests and minimize the mass exodus of African youth from the continent, African governments should develop home grown basic and functional economic policies, such as in mass housing, which would create employment for young people.  

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) policies on open and market economy is undoubtedly unfavorable to fragile African economies.

While it is not practicable to close an economy to the rest of the world, local industries which create jobs must also be protected from subsidized products from abroad. 

Ambassador Rasheed, former director of Trade and Investment in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

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