Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hold the Champagne

North Africa: Not Yet Time for Celebration in Libya
Solomon A. Dersso, Senior Researcher, African Conflict Prevention Programme,
Addis Ababa Office
1 December 2011

Addis Ababa — After eight months of bloody fighting, supported by a UN-sanctioned NATO aerial campaign, the war in Libya culminated in the demise of the country's long time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Many people inside and outside Libya think that it is now time for celebration.
Indeed, those involved, including NATO and the National Transitional Council (NTC) they have congratulated themselves for a job well done. A closer look at the situation in post-Gaddafi Libya reveals that it is too soon to start celebrating.

As in similar other conflict situations such as Iraq, the military victory of the NTC and NATO over Gaddafi simply marks the beginning of the more arduous task of achieving political stability. Despite the defeat of Gaddafi's regime, the new Libya is in uncertain political and security terrain. It faces both immediate and longer-term challenges.

Although the war in Libya ended with the fall of Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, Gaddafi loyalists were not totally dislodged from Libya. It is feared that pockets of resistance are present in the southern desert of Libya around Sebha, the Traghan oasis, the Wadi al-Ajal, Oubari, Ghat and perhaps elsewhere in Libya. Consequently, the risk of insurgency emerging from these areas should not be discounted.

The major immediate challenge is to ensure that law and order is established. This entails, among other concerns, ensuring that security forces are brought under unified control, security institutions are established within a unified administration, and the criminal justice system is made fully functional. The security sector in the country is in disarray. The armed groups that fought against Gaddafi are diverse and lack unified command and control.

Apart from the huge security sector reform task these situations entail, incidents of blood vendettas, lootings and similar criminal acts present an urgent threat. Most notably, apart from the suspected summary execution of Gaddafi in the hands of rebel forces in Sirte, perceived Gaddafi loyalists also detained Gaddafi fighters and African migrants whom they regarded as mercenaries.. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an investigation into the deaths of 53 people suspected of being killed by rebel forces as part of on-going revenge attacks. HRW also said that it had found the remains of at least 95 people who apparently died the day rebel forces captured Gaddafi.

Another immediate challenge comes from the proliferation of weapons in the country and the region. In the course of the eight month long civil war, large amounts of weapons in different parts of the country ended up in the hands non-government entities.

As a result, the country is currently awash with weapons and arms, including missiles, taken from various Gaddafi army bases, thereby putting the security of the country in serious danger. HRW reported that vast amounts of unsecured explosive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, remain unguarded in the area around Sirte.

Andrew Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said on 14 October that he believed that Libya had about 20,000 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in its arsenal before civil war began in March. Some reports indicate that the level of proliferation in Libya is far greater than in stateless Somalia. The country as a result faces the daunting task of locating and collecting arms, securing arms depots in the country and disarming the rebel groups.

While securing law and order is the immediate challenge facing Libya under the NTC leadership, the country also faces other longer term and more structural challenges. The first of these challenges is for the transitional government established on 22 November to successfully lead the country to democratic elections.

Another longer term and more structural challenge is to achieve national cohesion and reconciliation. While the Libyan people are almost entirely Muslim and predominately Arab, Libya has historic ethnic, tribal and regional divisions. In the course of the armed rebellion of the past eight months, these divisions have acquired particular political salience. The rebellion, as well as the fall of Gaddafi, created the conditions for the emergence of divisions on the basis of religious ideologies between Islamists and secularists. The jihadist groups, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may also attempt to take advantage of the prevailing political and security atmosphere dawning in post-Gaddafi Libya.

In the weeks and months to come, the most challenging division is the one between the NTC and its supporters and those who were part of the Gaddafi regime and supporting Gaddafi. Unless adequate care is taken to ensure that the right balance is created between accountability and justice and avoiding the total exclusion of members of the Gaddafi regime from the future politics of the country, the possibility of achieving national cohesion and reconciliation will be less certain.

Yet another major challenge for post-Gaddafi Libya is the protracted task of transforming the state from its autocratic past to democracy based on the rule of law and human rights for Libyans. This task is rendered more onerous by the nature of the system of governance institutionalised and practiced by Gaddafi.

Upon coming to power in 1969, he introduced his so called 'Third Universal Theory' which advanced the idea that people should directly run the state's day-to-day activities and exercise the powers of government. Accordingly, it limited governmental structure and authority to 'peoples committees'.

The result of these practices over the years has been that there was very little regard paid to the development of state bureaucracy or any form of institutionalised structure of government. The justice and security sectors were also fragmented. The country has had no constitution.

If one can speak of anything that comes close to a constitution, it is the green book that Gaddafi authored as the blue print for his ongoing experiment in governance in Libya. As a result, the country has had no tradition of party politics, independent media and press or organized civil society. Consequently, state institutions need to be built from the ground up and conditions must be created for enabling members of society to acquire tools that will enable them to participate in public affairs and hold their leaders accountable.
Finally, the destruction that the nine-months of fighting caused to the material and physical infrastructure of the country presents a major challenge in terms of reconstruction. On 26 August 2011, the head of the NTC's Libyan Stabilisation Team, Ahmed Jehani, stated that it would take at least ten years to rebuild the country's infrastructure. He suggested that Libya's plan to give the most damaged parts of the country priority during reconstruction.

According to the NTC, the cost of reconstruction could reach USD 5 billion. Since Jahani made these estimates, the fighting in Bani Walid and Sirte resulted in further damage to the material and physical infrastructure of these cities. Indubitably, the resultant destruction of large parts of these two cities will add tremendously to the cost of rebuilding the country.

No doubt that the demise of Gaddafi marks the end of an era. Notwithstanding that Libya is now in uncertain security and political environment. To use Henry Kissinger's, the military victory over Gaddafi has yet to be translated into political coin. The celebration should thus be saved for another time.

Solomon A. Dersso, Senior Researcher, African Conflict Prevention Programme, Addis Ababa Office

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