By Andy Griminger.
Washington DC, US, 29 September:
A friend recently asked me if I still intended to visit Libya given the violence . . .[restrict]across the region and widespread anti-American sentiment. His question made me think through my reasoning for making a fourth trip, but my answer came quickly: Libya is a special place.
Foreigners who have not been to Libya can be forgiven for having a very limited understanding of the country. News about Libya focused solely on the actions of the late leader Qaddafi since he closed off Libya to the outside world. We only read about Lockerbie, Berlin, or Qaddafi travelling in tents. In fact, few Libyans other than Qaddafi ever made the news. Many of us missed the harsh reality of life under Qaddafi, the random violence, neglect and intimidation. We missed a nation of six million kept in the dark and under the boot of one man with pretensions to be King of Africa.
Our limited understanding of Libya continues to this day. Foreign media focus on the common threads running across the Arab Spring, themes of continuous fighting, unstable governments, the unleashing of extremists, particularly Islamic extremists, and great uncertainty about the future.These are very real concerns and are present in Libya to some extent. The attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi demonstrates all of these problems very clearly.
However not every Arab country is the same, and what I have seen with my own eyes in Libya suggests there is something special happening here, something which makes me believe in the future of the nation.
The Libyans I have met have a desire to chart their return from isolation and oppression count. They want to give value to the struggles and hardship they endured over the last forty years by building a sophisticated, independent, realistic and prosperous new Libya.
Ten years of experience with post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught me that realising this dream will be a slow and difficult process. However, in my meetings with government ministers and civil leaders, it has become clear that Libyans share a common goal of national progress, and a desire to do so in a reasoned and well thought-out manner.
Rather than rush into sporadic reconstruction and development activities, the government has sought to require strategic plans fitting individual projects into a long term set of goals.
It is extremely hard to maintain this approach in the face of general discontent and the post-revolutionary desire of the Libyan people for progress. It would be far easier to throw money at the different tribes and regions demanding improvements.
However, the NTC and now the new Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur are putting basic plans in place sector by sector, from health and education to labour and the future of under-employed youth.
The ministers and senior staff that I have met want to know how specific activities fit into broader planning exercises, how they contribute to immediate needs while shaping Libya’s future. For example, how would new youth facilities support economic opportunities for future generations of Libyans in all 46 districts?
This long term focus is supporting the government’s effort to keep the heavily factionalised Libyan identity united under one national banner. The management of the elections, the distribution of new projects and the long slow effort to bring militias under unified control are incredibly difficult challenges, particularly when Qaddafi left few strong institutions in government to carry out this work.
Unlike Iraq, which has a long history of a professional civil service and strong central government, the new Libyan government must shape an identity with far fewer assets in place. The ability of the new government to meet the needs of the people will determine whether Libyans continue to believe in a unified state and a national government, or if they return to sectarian or tribal identities.
Libya is not following any specific model, neither that of Iraq, Turkey or the Emirates, nor the US or European states; the nation’s path will be specifically Libyan.
The counter-protests in Benghazi following the US Ambassador’s death seemed to be the only such example of anti-extremism reported in the region. The country that most Libyans want to build is one that will, in fact, go its own way, and in so doing perhaps become a model for others seeking to create a modern, unitary and representative state. Supporting such a vision is reason enough for me to keep coming back to a free Libya.
Andy Griminger is Vice President of Management Systems International (MSI) and Director of MSI Libya. [/restrict]