By Michel Cousins.
Tunis, 3 January 2018:
Most Libyans are completely unaware that Germany is the largest foreign aid donor to the country: some €233 million was given by Berlin over past year to support a variety of projects in the country. Unlike some foreign governments which try to make sure everyone is aware of their largesse to Libya, the German authorities have said little about it. According to German ambassador Christian Buck, though, there is a logic to the funding.
“Quite simply, as an EU state, Libya is our immediate neighbour,” he said in an interview with the Libya Herald on Germany’s policies on Libya and its willingness to help it rebuild.
That is why it feels it has to help.
“It is a country we deeply care about – a country that now requires assistance to get back to stability, peace and prosperity after the 2011 revolution.”
He adds: “We understand that it is as much our duty as our best self-interest to work with Libyans and the state of Libya to help build up the country.”
He also points out that not only is Germany the biggest foreign donor to Libya but that Libya ranks high on Germany’s global giving list, both short-term in stabilisation measures and long-term in development cooperation.
The financial support has gone to a number of projects. The most recent donation was €1 million towards the funding needs of the High National Elections Commission in preparing for elections, expected to take place in late 2018.
The others are:
- €2 million for education/culture/media/civil society;
- €3 million: demining, mainly in Sirte;
- €5.7 million: supporting mediation efforts;
- €10.5 million for local governance, to strengthen municipal capacities;
- €11 million for the Stabilization Facility for Libya;
- approximately €200 million in aid to support for migrants and IDPs
Germany feels it knows what it takes to help Libya transform both politically and economically. East Germany, the ambassador points out, was both a very different political system to the German Federal Republic but also a centralised state economy.
“It was deeply transformed politically and economically, and is now the most modern part of Germany, if you look at the infrastructure, at institutions, at capacity.”
Libya, Buck believes, has all the basic ingredients to be a successful economy – natural resources, an educated and skilled population, vast amounts of land, and access to trading routes with neighbouring states.
“Only it needs to rebuild itself, to re-invent itself, in a more modern, more functional way in order to tap into its potential.”
As a major element in its support for Libya’s renaissance, Germany is already looking as much to cooperating with local communities as with the central government.
“We think it is more useful than just to start at the top. We do work with the central government, but Libya is a large, very large country.”
One way to support local communities has been through the UNDP’s Libya Stabilisation Faculty which has been helping to fund reconstruction and development projects in a number of places seriously damaged, both during and since the revolution – Sirte, Benghazi, Obari, Kikla and others.
Germany is its largest contributor so far.
It is also helping municipalities through its local governance programme which aims at strengthening capacities in towns and communities across the country.
These have included towns along the migration routes which have been struggling as a result. But there has also been a massive €200 million or so allocated to help deal with issues relating not just to migrants but also to Libya’s own internally displaced persons (IDPs). It has been provided to organisations such as the EU Trust Fund, IOM, UNHCR, UNICEF, ICRC, and the German Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, refugees and IDPs. But it has also helped ensure health services and the rehabilitation of schools in a number of places in Libya.
In looking locally, the German intention has been to make practical differences that will change ordinary people’s lives, according to Buck.
“We work together to create economic opportunities, to create jobs, to create skills that are useful in the job market, that can produce something that people want. Repairing cars, trading, hairdressers – you name it. It’s the small initiatives that will bring the Libyan economy forwards, just as much as it is the deep central reform of the legal framework or the courts that are necessary to enforce property rights.”
Looking locally, the ambassador holds out the prospect of future twinning between German and Libyan towns.
“Twinning is a very successful concept that we have seen all over Europe and it creates deep ties.” As soon as there is an improvement in security, he says, there could be more direct contacts between municipalities.
Recently, he adds, the embassy supported Libya’s local government minister and a group of mayors to go to Germany to see municipalities there.
“It struck me as very useful to share experiences that are not theoretical but very practical, on a day-to-day basis. How do you organise waste-water treatment? How do you organise garbage collection? How do you collect revenues for water? Who organises the water supply, and how do you organise the governance behind it? How does a municipality work? How is it accountable to the elected town council?”
Twinning, he feels, can enable knowledge and skills transfer.
In looking locally, though, Buck strongly impresses that Germany has not intention of favouring any one region.
“We are not supporting the west or the east or the south. Not Cyrenaica or Fezzan or Tripolitania. We support Libya. So we support all regions of the country – although obviously not all municipalities at the same time because they are a great many. But we are doing it in a balanced manner.”
He has, he says, had invitations from numerous mayors and municipal representatives to visit. He mentions Nalut, Zintan, Sebha, Benghazi and Sirte among them. He also mentions the need to help local education in particular.
“Schools and universities are full of young people with aspirations for their country. This is where we should help start building together the future of Libya.”
He rolls out areas of German financial support. In Sirte, there has been German funding for a joint demining project with US and UK. There has been support, too, for reconciliation efforts.
“We are deeply involved in supporting the dialogue that is taking place between Misrata and Tawergha. It is very difficult but it is also very important to get them together again and work as neighbours again. It takes time, of course, and it takes some sort of actual compensation – material compensation. However, the most important thing seems to me to be the acknowledgement of wrongdoing and beginning the process of genuine reconciliation.”
Another track, and the one that has accounted for the largest slice of German funding centres around the issue of migration, including smuggling and the treatment of migrants.
“I have personally seen horrendous examples,” Buck says.
One way of addressing the issue is by providing economic alternatives to those currently involved in the smuggling networks – from Qatrun all the way north to the coast.
“We work with communities along the migration routes to listen to ideas they have for legal and productive employment as opposed to illegal and immoral smuggling of human beings. And we feel very much they would prefer to have an alternative. We just have to help them get their legal economy up and running again.”
Germany has another good reason to take the issue seriously, not just the moral reasons. According to Buck, between 80 to 90 percent of migrants who have transited through Libya end up in Germany.
As to the number of Libyans now living in Germany, there are no accurate figures available, but it thought to be in the tens of thousands – and growing. It too is a reason for German financial support for Libya.
Although Germany fully supports the Libyan Political Agreement and the Presidency Council, and is also helping fund dialogue in Libya, it does not have any fixed views about how that dialogue pans out or on the timing of elections, Buck says.
“Elections are certainly part of the answer [in Libya]. But elections alone do not mean anything anywhere. Elections are not a magic wand or a trick. Elections can achieve something if the electorate, the people agree on what their choices are and agree to respect the result,” Buck says.
As to when they take place, “this will require a dialogue between several entities and persons”. These include the House of Representatives, the Presidency Council, UN special envoy Ghassan Salamé.
There is a warning too, that Libya cannot expect the rest of the world to fix its problems.
“I would like to emphasise it is up to the Libyan people to decide on their future. I am not saying this lightly nor to curry favour with the Libyans. I am saying this because there is a responsibility. There is a burden to decide. The actual future of Libya will be the responsibility of the Libyans. Whether the future is bright or not will not be a choice made by the international community but a choice made by Libyans.”