Community Dynamics and Economic Interests
By Tim Eaton, Abdul Rahman Alageli, Emadeddin Badi, Mohamed Eljarh, and Valerie Stocker
This paper is based on approximately 200 interviews carried out by the authors – in person and remotely – with a wide range of Libyan actors between November 2018 and September 2019. This the paper does not claim to cover all armed groups in the country.
Provision of alternative livelihoods
The ongoing war undermines the case for the disarmament of armed groups and their members. In the current environment, it will be hard to convince armed actors to put down their weapons to engage in civilian life.
Recent bouts of conflict have illustrated to communities the need to retain their military capability to avoid subjugation by other forces. Nevertheless, despite the challenges, it would be a mistake to assume that all DDR attempts must wait until a political settlement is reached.
The fractured and competitive security environment continues to erode state capacity and complicate attempts to produce a durable political settlement.
The international community can and should do more to support the development of alternative livelihoods that may make disengagement from armed groups attractive.
Incentives could be created through a combination of financial tools (such as access to banking services, loans and microcredit) and educational tools (business training, professional training, assistance to those wishing to resume school and university education).
However, this requires structural reforms to Libya’s model of governance. Notably, given the dependence of Libyans upon state sector employment, will the demobilization of fighters mean their removal from the state’s payroll?
Can the bloated Libyan state continue to pay employees for largely unproductive labour? What alternatives exist? For example, interviews conducted in the east indicate that employment within the LAAF is viewed in the same way as employment in other areas of the public sector.
Rank-and-file members of the LAAF tend to have limited educational qualifications, which hinders their ability to obtain other forms of public sector employment. This suggests that investment would be required to improve their job prospects in the public and/or private sectors.
It also suggests that, beyond an exclusive focus on human security, considerations of economic security should be factored into policy planning. Such reforms, moreover, potentially complicate demobilization efforts because they would mean the loss of public sector employment for the lower-level members of armed groups.
The ability to provide access to economic opportunities is contingent upon SSR/DDR being matched by a wider plan for economic recovery. The viability of providing alternative livelihoods varies by group and location.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. For example, in the case of the SDF and the Nawasi Brigade, whose forces remain relatively coherent, motivated and well compensated, SSR processes have a greater chance of success than do DDR efforts.
On the other hand, the contemporary landscape and overall revenue-generation and -distribution mechanisms of the TRB in Tripoli suggest that an approach that distinguishes between the leadership, mid-level commanders and rank-and-file fighters may be effective.
The threat of economic sanctions may also make high-level commanders more receptive. Overall, the reliance on the state for jobs and incomes appears to be in decline, perhaps owing to the prolonged absence of state institutions and inefficient service provision.
The horizontal structure of many armed groups in the south, combined with the weakness of the formal economy, makes rank-and-file fighters there suitable targets for the provision of alternative livelihoods.
The most viable approach to curtailing smuggling, for example, would be to adopt a multi-pronged, long-term strategy that aims to boost private sector development and licit sources of revenue. Despite the lack of state support or private business infrastructure, there is entrepreneurship in Fezzan.
Overall, the reliance on the state for jobs and incomes appears to be in decline, perhaps owing to the prolonged absence of state institutions and inefficient service provision.
Manual jobs are not (or, at least, no longer) shunned, although they may not be a first choice for many former fighters, some of whom may aspire to higher-skilled professions. Some young people go into traditional trades, such as livestock herding and small-scale agriculture.
One of the main difficulties is that most business ventures require significant starting capital, yet no system is in place to provide young entrepreneurs with loans, guidance and business support. On paper, there are Libyan state entities mandated to suppo entrepreneurship.
Back in 2014–15, they were running offices in Sebha and publicizing ambitious programmes for future development. However, few concrete steps were taken, and the current status of these initiatives is unclear.
Grassroots initiatives are under way to support the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. One such project, launched by an academic in Sebha in 2017, targets ex-combatants who wish to learn a manual craft or trade; the project finds a placement with on-the-job training, and delivers a certificate after successful completion of training.
Trainees are incentivized with modest remuneration during the training period, with the added prospect of earning a salary equivalent to that paid in the security sector once they are employed full-time.
In the south, both the oil and agriculture sectors provide opportunities for job creation and promotion of the private sector. There have been some efforts at capacity-building in the oil sector, such as setting up a technical training institute near Ubari, but these are insufficient.
Further efforts should be invested into helping graduates apply for positions in the oil sector, without relying on NOC recruitment mechanisms or the state’s poorly performing labour offices. In particular, the commitment of oil companies to facilitate local hiring should be followed up upon.
Reducing armed group engagement in the economy
The militarization of Libya’s economy is a driver of conflict. While a focus on curtailing illegality may seem like the obvious way of reducing armed groups’ engagement in the economy, a more useful criterion for assessing which activities to target with enforcement measures is to focus upon activities and actors in closest proximity to violence.
Determining the focus of local and international policies to reduce armed group engagement in the economy requires a judgment on which practices can and should be targeted, as well as on the feasibility of doing so in the context of ongoing war.
This is far from a straightforward calculation.
The involvement of armed groups in illicit activities can be overestimated, and not all armed group engagement in the conflict economy is strictly illegal.
For example, most armed groups are formally part of the state’s security apparatus and therefore legally recognized as recipients of salaries from the state payroll.
In the east of the country, the LAAF’s economic activities in the public and private sectors are supported by legislation passed by the House of Representatives – though this endorsement is at best quasi-legal given the flaws in the House of Representatives and the unrecognized status of both the Interim Government and the eastern CBL.
At the same time, many of the economic activities undertaken by armed groups are demonstrably illegal. Even in the case of the LAAF, it is clear that the MAIPW is seeking to expand beyond its (contested) legal scope of operation.
Armed groups within Libya’s fractured security environment compete against one another for resources and influence. Keeping a significant armed group running requires concomitantly significant spending on operational costs, beyond salary requirements.
Yet, as the state’s support for these expenditures is often not forthcoming, armed groups claim that they need alternative sources of funding. In many cases, this argument is used to justify illicit coercive practices that include rent maximization and state capture.
This has created a vicious cycle wherein armed groups cite insecurity and a lack of effective governance as proof of the need for their continued existence, even as many of their actions hinder effective governance.
The international community could do much to curb the growth of the conflict economy by restricting the capacity of Libyan actors to mobilize resources for the purposes of violence. This effort must begin closer to home – i.e. within the international policymaking environment itself – with enforcement of the arms embargo.
Inside Libya, it means opposing the increasing entrenchment of actors such as the LAAF in the economy in the east. It also means opposing lower-level engagement, such as the collaboration between Ghneiwa’s forces in Tripoli and the local municipality.
The international community should consider the use of sanctions to dissuade Libyan actors from employing state resources to escalate the conflict, as it previously did in the case of Ibrahim Jadhran.
Prospects for enforcement by the Libyan state
Weak institutions, operational divides and a lack of capacity to enforce policies constrain the ability of the Libyan state to clamp down on illicit activities.
Nonetheless, there have been efforts, via different authorities, to apply the rule of law in both the west and the east. The judiciary still functions to a certain extent, with prosecutors and judicial enforcement agents cooperating across political lines of division.
This is something that the international community should seek to reinforce.
The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in Tripoli has moved to prosecute crimes against the state, issuing arrest warrants against Libyans implicated in fuel smuggling and the sabotage of oil facilities, among other alleged crimes.
Some of the indictments have targeted members or commanders of armed groups. Since the AGO’s authority has not been formally challenged by the House of Representatives, AGO rulings remain applicable throughout the country.
Arrest warrants and travel bans are communicated to immigration police at land borders and airports, as well as to other law enforcement agencies (such as the judicial police, criminal investigations department and intelligence agencies).
The main difficulty for the AGO is to execute warrants, given Libya’s splintered security sector. It has various tools at its disposal, depending on the location, situation and type of crime.
Often, executing a warrant requires the cooperation not only of official law enforcement agents but often also of irregular armed actors.
In western and southern Libya, individuals suspected of relevant crimes are usually captured by armed groups within their own communities and then handed over to Tripoli, where the SDF places them in temporary detention awaiting prosecution.
The success of such operations depends on the level of coordination and the relationship with the communities involved, including the SDF’s connections in other regions.
Decisions are often the result of social consultations – local stakeholders weigh the options in determining whether to protect their charged ‘sons’ or comply with the orders of Tripoli, and the outcome is then connected to some form of trade-off.
Prominent figures are out of reach of the judiciary, however, especially if allied with the LAAF or GNA and playing a role in the current war.
The ability of the AGO to enforce rulings also depends on the type of crime and individual targeted; rulings on crimes that are removed from the political and military domains have a greater chance of success.
In some instances, the AGO has been accused of bias or being a puppet of other actors. A case in point was its indictment of members of the Fezzan Anger Movement for anti-state action in the context of a sit-in at the Sharara oil field, which had prompted the NOC to declare force majeure on 10 December 2018.
The protest movement, launched in Ubari in October 2018, demanded better public services, jobs, economic development and SSR. It quickly gained support among the general public and local officials.
Between 26 November 2018 and 1 March 2019, the AGO indicted a total of 27 individuals in connection to the Sharara blockade, including the coordinator of the Fezzan Anger Movement, Bashir al-Sheikh (for incitement to blockade the field) and at least 14 other members of the movement.
In the east, there has been increasing friction between the LAAF and civilian authorities over the LAAF’s expanding economic activities.
Legal battles involving the MAIPW and the Interim Government in administrative tribunals in Benghazi and al-Bayda have covered issues such as migration control and management, as well as the operation of agricultural and industrial projects owned by the Social Security Fund and the Libya Local Investment and Development Fund.
Both Libyan and international efforts to tackle predatory economic activities are undermined by the lack of transparency in governing structures, and by the atomization of the country’s anti-corruption bodies.
In order to investigate and target individuals more effectively, greater efforts must be made to increase the transparency of the system and build the institutional capacity of anti-corruption authorities.
Here, the international audit – requested in 2018 and now currently impeded by the Libyan Audit Bureau – of the records of the rival branches of the CBL would provide a potential opportunity to leverage international pressure to increase the transparency of state entities.
For example, insistence on the disclosure of Libyan recipients of LCs and their partners (in other countries) would improve oversight of one of the most lucrative revenue streams within the conflict economy.
About the Authors:
Tim Eaton is a senior research fellow with the MENA Programme at Chatham House, where he focuses on the political economy of the Libyan conflict. Tim previously worked for BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, on projects in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and helped to set up and manage its Libya bureau from 2013 to 2014.
Abdul Rahman Alageli is an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Programme, based in Tripoli, Libya. He is currently an adviser to the GNA Chief-of-General Staff of the Libyan Army. Abdul Rahman previously worked with the stabilization team of the Libyan Prime Minister’s Office in 2011 before becoming the national security file coordinator in the Office of the Libyan Prime Minister and a member of the Libyan government’s National Security Coordination Team until 2015.
Emadeddin Badi is a researcher and political analyst who focuses on governance, conflict and the political economy of Libya. He has worked with multiple international development organizations and business risk firms as a consultant, and his analysis has been published widely.
Mohamed Eljarh is a Libyan affairs specialist who has covered Libya’s developments since 2011. He is the co-founder and CEO of Libya Outlook, and he acts as the regional manager for CRCM North Africa in Libya. Previously, Eljarh worked with the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy magazine.
Valerie Stocker is a researcher who has studied Libyan politics and society extensively, mostly focusing on the southern region. She has worked with various development organizations since 2013, conducting fieldwork and analysis on conflict dynamics, peace processes, migration and other subjects. Valerie was based in Tripoli for several years starting in 2008, and has previously worked as a freelance journalist and business risk consultant.