Tripoli: April 9
By Layla Ibrahim
If you’re in any way involved in the Civil Society or NGO world, you may be familiar . . .[restrict]with this scene. You’ll be invited to a meeting hosted by the UN/EU/USAid/Difed or any number of organisations supported by various countries who consider themselves ‘friends of Libya’.
The purpose of these meetings, the organisers politely tell you, is that they’re here to ‘listen’ as they’ve been commissioned by the EU/UN/UK/US/Germany/France/UAE/Qatar and invited by the NTC to let them know what ‘we need’ from them in the areas of media/elections/youth/women/ education/medical/animals.
Depending on how many of these meetings you’ve attended, your response will vary from “Oh how exciting! We definitely need support in this area” to “Seriously? Another needs assessment?!! Couldn’t you have read the 17 other assessments and now actually provide us with what we need?”
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m in the latter camp.
Before the revolution I had never encountered the post-conflict eco-system that I’ve now come to know and hold with a little bit of contempt, if not quite hate. This is a multi-million dollar industry. It may come under the guise of NGOs or training – sorry capacity building, or even some form of cultural organisation but money is its business and the easiest money to be found is in needs assessment.
Needs assessment involves asking questions, hanging out and writing reports. Writing reports is good business because there is no accountability. All you need to do is produce a document with some general information and perhaps some recommendations.
There is no need to act on these recommendations and the information you gather, you can use for business development for the more profitable commercial side of your work and also insures that you become a ‘Libya Expert’ which you can use when you go to another post-conflict country and do a needs assessment… repeat, rinse, repeat.
We had needs assessment pre-liberation, but now we obviously require more needs assessment because the country is liberated and our needs are clearly and obviously different.
Normally I could not care less, if the EU wants to fund a bunch of has-beens whose careers have faltered to come and do needs assessment, that’s something that should really be their problem.
Sadly, however, in Libya it’s our problem.
This interim Government by now is commonly recognised as being ineffective, even five year-olds are embarrassed for them. The reasons are another whole article, but let’s assume it’s because they’re overwhelmed with the amount they have to do and feel they lack the mandate to make the big decisions.
However, with a range of internationals coming to offer them support in everything from reconciliation to communications, these elderly men have suddenly reverted to being children. Unable to do anything themselves and hoping mummy and daddy in the form of the internationals will save them.
Whilst the internationals are being relied on to provide training and support and even, God help us, needs assessment, we will be stymied.
More dangerously, our expectations that the internationals are here to do things that matter to us means a vacuum is created when they don’t do it.
We expect that the UN will manage the elections but actually, their mandate is merely to advise; the elections have to be managed by Libyans who see the UN there and assume they will do it. Whilst the back and forth goes on, money has become more of a problem.
Donor countries view Libya as a rich country so the sums that would normally be spent on elections elsewhere are a fraction here. In the run-up to elections in Tunisia in this same time frame, the streets and media were filled with election awareness content. Here you’re lucky to see something on Facebook.
The EU is responsible for media and communications training, yet that is still to start. The company, IMG international, hired to do this, is still in the needs assessment phase, for which they require a couple of months. However even when it does start, none of the ‘experts’ are Arabic speakers, which means it is unlikely they’ll be able to help shape the scripts or articles to support our journalists.
Meanwhile it’s the public that suffers with unskilled journalists and broadcasters who cover the news – and more importantly a media unprepared to cover the elections.
A common complaint is the lack of communications from the government; however, you shouldn’t worry, as again the EU is here to help. Another EU-backed individual hired through IMG-International is working on “strategic communications” in the Prime Minister’s office.
Great news! So we should all expect to see an improvement there? No, not quite, as his job is to do yet another needs assessment, which of course is exactly what you need when the government has only been there for fewer than 3 months. No doubt he’ll be back to do another needs assessment when there is a new government.
As one diplomat said: “The EU just about works within the EU; it has no business operating outside. The interests of one European country in Libya are not going to be the same as another, so Libya will suffer from these conflicts of interests as they fight over the same pot.”
In the meantime, Libyan professionals who are desperate to help rebuild their country are being side-lined. Internationals will hire Libyans in the main as fixers/drivers/translators but not in key positions. They will pay vast sums for hotel bills and per diems but will quibble over dinars to hire local staff.
Libyans who turned up wanting to advise the NTC or government were told that there was a ‘free’ person from the EU or US and they weren’t willing to pay anyone themselves. Libyans happy to volunteer last year are now finding themselves struggling financially – so unsurprisingly are unable to compete with ‘free’.
The advice usually given by an internationally funded person is -unsurprisingly – that we will need an internationally funded person to help them do the job.
This is not to say that we don’t need international expertise or that Libyans should do everything. In certain areas we need international support; however, that support should be based on our requirements, run by us and paid for by us.
We should have the confidence to know the type of people who can and should advise us. However, what we sadly have in the main are people who are trading on their not being Libyan and who just happen to be here.
Instead of bringing in the best people in the world to help us build a nation, we’re getting many ‘experts’ barely out of college. Libya should not be a work-experience country, especially when there are so many able and skilled Libyan professionals.
We should have the confidence to question those who come to help us and decide whether they are the right person to advise the nation.
Foreign expertise is easy to buy, love of a country is not. There are many willing and able Libyans both inside Libya and across the globe, desperate to help and to be given a chance to have a say in the future of their country. However, just as the foreign experts are paid, we should understand that Libyans should be paid, and in fact, since they speak the language and understand the culture, they should get paid more.
Let us not rely on foreign nationals to take the lead in the new Libya. Let us seek out the Libyans who can support our government and treat them as the professionals they are. Let’s not automatically assume non-Libyans have a better sense of what we should do – but question their expertise and only use it when it proves to be worth using.
Where there are gaps, let us seek out the world-class international professionals and pay for their expertise. Libya is worth the cost and deserves the best.
However, as long as the international organisations are the only ones who have the ear of the insecure Libyan officials and more importantly, they are the only ones receiving money and funding, Libyans will continue to be side-lined in the rebuilding of their country. And the public will continue to suffer from the decisions of those who don’t believe in a Libya that can be run by Libyans.