By Osama Matri.
Tripoli, 29 September:
State institutions exist and operate in a socio political environment and are influenced and shaped . . .[restrict]by the various dynamic forces that operate within that environment. The development of stable, highly effective and well organized state institutions is inextricably entwined with the evolution of the overall socio-political context.
Hence, achieving security and political stability, in an environment marked by fragmentation and lack of faith in public institutions, is a precondition for any attempt to lay the foundation of a stable and effective political system.
It goes without saying that as institutions in dynamic relationships with their surrounding environment, governments reflect, in their subtle ways, the prevailing state of affairs in a society as a whole and are bound to continue to be shaped by its development.
Without understanding and addressing the specific political and social circumstances that recognize the existing power relations, the task of rebuilding state institutions is sure to be fraught with challenges that may derail the entire process, thus increasing the chances of instability, fragmentation and potentially violent conflict.
The rebuilding of security sector is certain to remain the first priority of upcoming government. While all agree on the need to build effective security and armed forces, few have put forth concrete proposals to achieve the goal. At the level of political discourse, there is nothing beyond the usual platitudes.
This resulted in widespread lofty rhetoric empty of any substance and this ambiguity has given rise to different theories as to what is halting the rebuilding process. In my view, this manifest failure to come up with a credible plan that meets with a broad consensus and draws on the support of “the silent majority” to take it forward, can be attributed to a lopsided approach that focuses almost exclusively on the technical aspects of the rebuilding, as opposed to the social and political requirements that constitute a precondition for any institutional rebuilding project of this magnitude.
Major challenges, social and political in nature, remain that need to be addressed. I will try to explain more. Political leaders, current and former, have talked a great deal about the need to rebuild the security sector, recognizing that only a national professional security force with sole and legitimate monopoly on use of force can safeguard against threats to peace and security.
While the solution seems straightforward, it does not go far enough because in such a discourse the political and social factors are ignored; the question of what it means to be in the process of rebuilding, as opposed to mere reforming or modernizing, is shoved aside.
Those who have engaged in the process of rebuilding, at the level of discourse or practice, have paid inadequate attention to the urgent task of consolidating unity and articulating a national political consensus that is the basis for any sustainable and successful rebuilding effort.
Only a national programme of action built on unity and consensus among social and political forces, achieved through active involvement and broad participation of all social and political actors, is capable of overcoming centrifugal forces and reconciling competing, diverging and sometimes conflicting claims.
Ideological, territorial and other claims can only be accommodated and made to serve the broader national interest when they exist and interact within a socio- political setting that moves away from a zero sum view of politics towards a view that places the diversity of opinion and interests within a broader national narrative that brings people and communities together in a conscious and purposeful endeavor.
In this situation, relationship between state and citizens, and among citizens themselves, is defined by similarities rather than differences and is guided and inspired by a forward looking agenda that mobilizes and channels collective action and not resort to opportunistic political calculations.
Mere concern with the trappings of democracy and sole reliance on ballot box legitimacy won’t go far enough at this critical juncture in Libya’s history, nor will any democratic transition process be sustainable or stable without a national political and social coalition forged by unity of vision and action.
If this is true for the process of rebuilding normal state sectors, it is even more relevant and critical for rebuilding the security sector. If we have luxury to take as much time as we need, ceteris paribus, then we might be assured that eventually we will build a modern and effective state; alas, in the real world, nothing remains constant and the interplay of domestic and foreign factors, if not countered by a unified domestic front, could prove detrimental to long term stability and development by exacerbating internal tensions and creating false dichotomies that often times influence events in an undesirable direction.
For the sake of future generations, and to preempt unforeseen events impeding our efforts, the historic opportunity must not be allowed to go to waste building a strong social coalition must trump political expediency and short term power calculations.
Here comes the role that I think history has assigned to the elected political leadership in light of its potential capacity to lead the rebuilding effort and act as a catalyst for a unified public support behind a shared national vision and agenda.
At no other time is this leadership’s role more critical than today. Politicians working with the formal instruments of state will not, in isolation of the wider social context, be able to create a solid base for legitimizing state authority in the long run, and establish the necessary enabling environment where the rebuilding can precede unabated, and in which the state epitomizes popular will.
To honor the great sacrifices, the politics of revenge and false choices must be rejected; when viewed from the right perspective, there is no tradeoff between justice and national unity, between our values and identity on one hand and our aspiration to build a modern democratic state and a modern productive economy.
Without a truly national political consensus that restores faith of people in government institutions and without a national inspiring agenda, one that elevates the national cause above all else, without a political discourse that treats justice as part of the process of healing the wounds of division and paving the way for a prosperous and peaceful future rather than a way of settling scores and fighting the battles of the past, we run the risk of ignoring underlying socio political realities and, Allah forbid, planting the seeds for future crises.
If progress on building effective state institutions, even in the short period of time, has been unsatisfactory (especially in the security sector), it is partly because the leadership’s potential for mobilizing and organizing bottom up grassroots collective action towards greater sense of unity remains untapped.
This is the task awaiting the new leadership.
Osama Matri is a Libyan development practitioner concerned with analyzing governance challenges facing Libya in its transition period. [/restrict]