By Tarek Megerisi
Instability resulting from Libya’s revolution and civil war has never fully come under control. It has worsened with political infighting, the failures of the GNA, and the emergence of a rival government in the east of the country.


A bird’s eye view

A wide variety of organisations are engaged in attempts to stabilise Libya. The establishment of the SFL and the two-stage work of the UNDP in the form of its initial emergency assistance programme and recovery and resilience programme have seen some success, particularly in helping stabilise some service delivery, as well as in making some progress in strengthening the capacity of local authorities and taking some economic projects forward.

The successes that the UNDP has already had in working with local government have centred on emergency assistance in which it provided resources such as ambulances, fire and garbage trucks, and school computers, and fitted generators and solar panels to schools and hospitals in order to increase their resilience to disruptions in Libya’s electricity supply.

Individual states have followed suit in maintaining key areas of service delivery, such as Italy’s recent commitment to finance the restoration of Tripoli’s garbage collection service following the emergence of a noticeable problem of waste on the streets.

But, despite the success of these policies in maintaining key services, they have been delivered in piecemeal fashion rather than holistically. Future plans will need to translate the provision of services into a Libyan capacity to sustainably take on such provision.

Europeans involved in stabilisation, both governmental and those of state-sponsored agencies and NGOs, have suggested that they would like more expansive information-sharing from UNDP on its programmatic planning to help them identify whether to advance unilateral assistance programmes or opportunities for enhanced cooperation.

As the UNDP, various NGOs, and state-sponsored outfits such as Germany’s GIZ or Italy’s AICS take on enlarged stabilisation roles and long-term projects, all parties will have to increase their information-sharing and qualitative cooperation to ensure that their programmes are complementary.

Individual states have also unilaterally engaged with various Libyan institutions in attempts to build up their effectiveness and improve their functionality in line with their national interests and expertise.

For example, the US has embarked on security assistance programmes, such as helping the Ministry of Justice improve policing and prisons. This is an important part of Libya’s stabilisation portfolio, given the importance of improving security.

Indeed, the third important component of stabilisation – security – will be vital for completing the transition to stability. To date, Libya continues to see militias exploiting the country’s structural politico-economic flaws for their own benefit.

The UNDP and other more traditional stabilisation actors are not well equipped to meaningfully engage with these groups. The US and the EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya have aimed to provide multilateral assistance on enhancing airport and border security through the Ministry of Interior, and other border units have also been the target of multilateral assistance policies.

However, the security landscape in Libya, in which informal militias, whether criminal or ideologically driven, dominate security provision and run detention centres and airports, this is a risky programme that is likely to accrue more negative than positive results. 

Alongside this, a persistent concern of the UNDP is that the presence multiple actors engaged in Libya heightens the risk of duplication of effort or even working counter to one another. This risk only grows as the full scale of the support that Libya needs becomes increasingly apparent and more organisations join the effort.

The size of the task and the array of tools and differently qualified supporting actors mean that Libya would benefit from high-level strategising to create the most efficient and effective approach possible. In the absence of leadership from the Libyan state, the international actors most heavily invested in stabilisation – the UNDP, the EU, and Germany – should formulate a medium-term approach.

Such a bird’s eye view would incorporate the lessons outlined in this paper, identifying which municipalities are best suited for partnering with to help return services to operation, considering both the urgency of their needs and their capacity to make sustainable gains.

It should also analyse the grassroots initiatives some municipalities have already developed, looking at where they have succeeded and what elements of their initiatives can be modelled for deployment elsewhere. It should pay special attention to the economic component of stabilisation, and address the security component noted above.

International actors involved in stabilisation activities in Libya regularly express dissatisfaction with the communication mechanisms currently in place between them. An honest conversation with one another will help them understand what they need from one another and how best to upgrade communication and coordination mechanisms to share information. This will involve a conscious linkage of stabilisation to Libya’s politics, and an awareness that stabilisation cannot exist in a vacuum. Such a linkage makes it easier to pinpoint where specific stabilisation programmes, such as those to resolve economic failings, require diplomatic assistance to truly make progress.

As Libya moves towards elections along a new political trajectory mapped out by Salamé, high-level strategising and coordination will become a prerequisite of success.

Next steps for Libya

Libya needs a wider stabilisation strategy than is currently in place. This renewed strategy should aim to create a virtuous cycle by locking in gains made in governance and service delivery, enabling economic recovery, and assisting a move towards greater security and more meaningful and effective political processes.

The ineffectual GNA and corrupt legacy of the Gaddafi years mean that the best way to achieve this comes from local actors, be they municipalities, state-owned companies, or private sector initiatives. This wider strategy will need to be responsive to the structural economic flaws of the Libyan state which hamper stabilisation and encourage destructive, destabilising politics.

To ensure the long-term success of the tripartite UNDP recovery and resilience programme, stabilisation actors with sufficient diplomatic gravity will have to make parallel efforts to find a solution to the national-level economic issues that make the status quo so profitable for Libya’s elite.

Looking further ahead, political unification and an eventual new government will allow these actors to develop new, more meaningful, partnerships with ministers and ministries. This will allow them to remove the current blocks on further progress at the municipal level.

Alongside this, stabilisation actors can do more to develop Libyan municipal capabilities to provide services and encourage economic development at a local level. One way to do this would be for the EU to further increase its support to the UNDP to help extend its resilience work and thereby assist relatively successful municipalities.

Some municipalities have leveraged local factors to provide effective governance across the spectrum of the UNDP’s local authorities programme, thereby protecting their gains. Learning from the successes of other Libyan municipalities and transferring good practice is likely the easiest path to allowing internationally led stabilisation efforts to naturally evolve into Libyan-led state-building.

At the heart of new high-level strategising by international actors should be the search for municipally developed solutions that are transferrable rather than context-specific and that help each municipality make its own working practices more resilient.

This would allow for a model of effective local governance to develop organically while enhancing stability at a local level. Replicating such policies and programmes across municipalities also provides a good platform for linking stabilisation efforts, making them more cohesive.

If stabilisation efforts can grow to become more targeted on the most relevant political economy issues and successfully lessen their deleterious effect on the public, they have the potential to not only keep the peace, but also to reduce public cynicism about national politics and generate space and support for the UN-led political process.

Given the rising number of actors playing stabilisation roles, and the different expertise and skillsets they provide, more joint planning and information-sharing will help ensure a complementary approach and lessen the waste of overlapping programmes.

A fresh strategy and multilateral approach along these lines remains the best hope for halting Libya’s destructive cycle of instability and encouraging the country to move down the long road of the post-revolutionary state-building process.


Tarek Megerisi is a visiting fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, where he focuses on Libya. He has previously worked as a freelance Libya analyst, an independent research consultant, and a political affairs fellow with Libya’s first independent think-tank, the Sadeq Institute.


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