Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘UN

LIBYA IN SUSPENCE – WILL IT SURVIVE?

leave a comment »

Libya ranks 173 out of 180 in the Corrupt Perception Index (CPI) for 2020. You can look up the CPI easily on your smart phone or similar. You can also read about the CPI’s reliability in the same way. If, like me, you need further confirmation that corruption is rife in Libya, read on. You will find confirmation enough in the words of the sometime acting head of UNSMIL, Ms Stephany Williams, which I have included in this piece. Does it matter? It does because it will endanger any and every potential political process in Libya and it will make, and is making, the lives of ordinary Libyan’s exceedingly difficult and Libya is a country with enormous oil reserves. 

In Libya’s old province of Cyrenaica sits Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter at the head of the Libyan National Army which he raised from scratch and which he holds together personally.  He is still referred to as a renegade war lord by those who would see him fall from power. He certainly has enemies enough. He is, however, the de Facto ruler of east and much of south Libya. He has chosen Turkey as his enemy because that countries’ President Erdogan has planted a significant military footprint in Libya’s western Provence, Tripolitania.

 Khalifa Haftar fought long and bloody battles to remove the Islamist jihadists from Benghazi and Derna. He was successful in the end and he was tempted to go for Tripoli. He gave clear notice of his intentions and there was a time when Fayez al Serraj, the head of the UN recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, might have attempted to negotiate with him. Al Serraj had closed the door on talks with Haftar emphatically and publicly. He could not eat his words it seems. To blame Haftar solely for intransigent behaviour is too easy.

But Haftar’s surprise attack on Libya’s capital was, in my view at least, his great misjudgement. When his army arrived at the gates of Tripoli, he clearly expected discontented Tripoli militias to go over to his side. They did not and so Haftar was forced to attack the city without them and attempt to grind his way into its vitals. There may have been a time when he could have sued for an advantageous peace. Perhaps he thought he could win. He overlooked the belligerent determination of Turkey’s President Erdogan who saw Haftar was overextended, went for his throat and pushed him out of Tripolitania.

It is pertinent to ask how many died in the battles for Tripoli because the answer will have a bearing on Libya’s future. We can bet there were many. Some sources say that 1,048 were killed and 5,558 wounded in four months between April July 2020.  Some say that over 2,356 were killed altogether. It will be more than that.

There appeared recently a force of nature in Libya in the person of Stephanie Williams, an American diplomat in the service of the United Nations, not unused to controversy and well versed in the Arab world. Libyan women have been struggling to emerge into public life since the heady days in Benghazi in the early Arab spring but have so far been muted by the violence and aggression which has characterised the exercise of power in Libya for too long. Ms Williams seemed determined that the ballot box should outclass the Kalashnikov in Libyan politics. The vigour with which she set about the job of making the process probable was applauded and appreciated by the overwhelmingly male players in Libya’s political and military life.

She convened a series of meetings between respected figures in Libyan public life chosen from each of the Fezzan, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and called the body so formed the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) ‘to generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of an election in the shortest possible time frame in order to restore the sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of Libyan institutions.’ She persuaded the LPDF to set 24th December 2021 as the date for a general election in Libya. It was on 24th December 1951 that Libya achieved independence.

She is an articulate and forthright diplomat. Here she is being very forthright indeed. She makes the problems Libya faced in December 2020 crystal clear.

The opening remarks to the 75 members attending the virtual meeting of the second round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).by the Acting UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams on 23rd November 2020.

‘’I want to remind you as I said before, time is not on your side. I would like to alert you to the fact that there is a direct cost for inaction and obstruction.

Some indicators I want to alert you to:

  1. There are now 10 military bases in your country- all over your country – and not in a particular area – that are today either fully or partially occupied by foreign forces.
  2. There are now 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries in your country. That is a shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty. You may believe that these foreigners are here as your guests, but they are now occupying your house. This is a blatant violation of the arms embargo.
  3. They are here pouring weapons into your country, a country which does not need more weapons.
  4. They are not in Libya for your interests, they are in Libya for their interests.
  5. “Dirou balkom” [take care]. You have now a serious crisis with regard to the foreign presence on your country.
  6. I have previously warned you about the declining socioeconomic conditions in the country and the fact that we expect in one months time, exactly in January 2021, there will be 1.3 million Libyans, your compatriots, your citizens in need of humanitarian assistance.
  7. There is a sharp decline in the purchasing power of the Libyan Dinar. The liquidity crisis has fully returned. There is a shortage of cash in circulation.
  8. There is a terrible electricity crisis now. I don’t need to remind you of how terrible the electricity shortages were last summer. Because of the terrible corruption and the mis-governance, all over the country. I am not pointing fingers. This is a crisis in the West and in the East. You have a crisis of corruption. You have a mis-governance crisis and now you have only 13 of 27 powerplants that are functioning.
  9. One billion US dollars is needed immediately to be invested in the electrical infrastructure in order to avert a complete collapse of the electrical grid in your country.
  10. This is very difficult now because of the divisions in the institutions, and because of the epidemic of corruption and this kleptocratic class that is determined to remain in power.
  11. This is accompanied by a deepening COVID-19 crisis. You now have almost 94,000 COVID-19 cases in Libya. We think those estimates are low and that the actual number is higher, but there is a terrible shortage of testing in the country.
  12. .
  13. While there is a lot of political tourism going to different countries and capitals, the average Libyans are suffering, and the indications of improvement for their situation are not there.
  14. We believe – and I think many of you believe – that the best way to move forward is through this political dialogue. This is a broad and inclusive forum for decision-making and people are counting on you. We went a long way (at our last meeting) in Tunis. We set the date of elections. We need to hold all those institutions that need to produce the elections accountable, but you also have a governance crisis. The best way to address your governance crisis is to unify your institutions, to unify your Central Bank which needs to have a board meeting to address the exchange rate crisis immediately.
  15. I know that there are many who think that this whole dialogue is just about sharing power, but it is really about sharing responsibility for future generations. This is my ask of you as we have the discussions today in going forward, because, and I will say it again, time is not on your side”.

The deliberations of the LPDF, skilfully guided by Ms. Williams, concluded with the decision that a Government of National Unity (GNU) was raised which reflected a fair representation from each of the provinces, as far as that was possible. It then superseded the Government of National Accord, a body that had signally failed to govern. The GNU was tasked with selecting a committee charged with writing a new constitution before the ballot takes place.

The GNU obtained the formal approval of a quorate House of Representatives, Libya’s remaining elected legislative authority but which has been divided for too long. It was to undertake, as its first priority, the preparations for and the administration of the ballot on 24th December 2021 and, in order to forestall accusations of regional bias to make Sirte its seat of power. 

All candidates for the new GNU undertook to hold national presidential and parliamentary elections on 24th December 2021 in which they will not stand for office, and to appoint women to 30 percent of senior government roles.

But they decided that there can be no elections without a settled constitution and that may yet prove a sticking point. Firstly, is it to be a secular constitution? Or will it be hijacked my militant Islamists and become bogged down in arguments about the place Sharia Law is to play in the constitution?

A further difficulty may be obtaining approval from Libya’s ethnic minorities. The Amazigh (Berbers and Tuaregs) and Tebu ethnic minorities have so far refused to approve a draft constitution hammered together some time ago. There will be plenty of opportunities to cause delays.

What is Haftar’s potential role in the proposed democratic process? He still has effective power in the east of Libya and considerable influence in southern Libya. In stark terms, and at the time of writing, the political process is unlikely to proceed in the east without Haftar’s cooperation – or his death or deposition – for the simple reason that no election can be held in the east unless he facilitates it. Why? Because he has consolidated his hold over key units in the LNA and brought his army to the aid of the civil power.

So, what has Haftar been doing? He has been building his LNA into an effective fighting force and is preparing it for a ‘fight to the death’ with Turkey which has become the significant military power in Tripolitania.

We can discern a careful plan behind all his actions. He has cranked up his propaganda machine and displayed his disciplined Libyan National Army in impressive parades and ceremonials. He has promoted his loyal officers, made a public display of doing so and receiving their gratitude with carefully controlled dignity and ceremony. He has held exercises in the hinterlands with live firing and realistic objectives. In so doing he has demonstrated his power, military hardware and the effectiveness of his army in field exercises both to potential enemies and wavering allies. He has cultivated the leaders of the respected tribes and rewarded the Awaquir in Benghazi in particular.

Most significant of all he has brought his army to the aid of the civil powers in Benghazi in particular and as far south as Kufra. In this he has made himself the effective civil power in east Libya. He has, like many leaders in history, chosen an enemy – Turkey in his case – which he can use to rouse his wavering and his loyal allies.

Amongst the remaining issues which have involved Haftar in Libya’s future is the distribution of the oil wealth amongst the Libyan people, a matter which has been a cause of considerable discord. It has been associated with the possibility of corruption and misgovernance. Haftar has persuaded the eastern and southern tribes to support his efforts to clean up the mess. Even if he is toppled from the command of the LNA we must recognise his efforts to see that an equitable distribution of Libya’s oil wealth is established.

Which returns us to the matter of corruption. It must be amongst the most pressing problems faced by those who would settle Libya’s issues. Here is the courageous Stephanie Williams addressing the matter head on when she said this to the British newspaper, the Guardian: “[In Libya] Their numbers numerically are not significant, but there is a constituency of the status quo. The existing political class are not interested in committing class suicide. They see any change through a temporary executive or to national elections as an end to their privileged access to the coffers, and resources of the state, and so it would put an end to their system of patronage that they have so adeptly developed in the past few years.”

“Elections are a direct threat to their status quo, and they are going to fight to defend their status quo, and it’s my belief that those are trying to block the formation of a consensual unified executive are the very same political forces that will try to block elections.”

King Idris struggled with corruption. Ghaddafi joined the gang. Any future government of Libya attempting to eliminate ingrained and all-pervading corruption will be faced with a classic dilemma – fight it or join it. Allowing the rampant pillage of Libya’s resources by what Williams calls the kleptocracy has a sad but practical merit in that it maintains what stability that remains in the war-ravaged country. But fighting it upsets the equilibrium – which is already fragile. ,

A government bent on clearing up the tragic mess will need a very strong mandate indeed and the support of an independent and incorruptible civil service and judiciary. At the time of writing that seems unlikely.   

John Oakes

25th March 2021

BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1