On 20 September 2017 the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Libya, Dr. Ghassan Salamé, announced an Action Plan for Libya at a High-Level Event on Libya on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The Libyan National Conference Process
By the time the National Conference Process was launched in early 2018, Libyans had endured seven years of state failure, instability and an inability to build up cohesive government institutions. Political conflicts among the country’s elites, damaging institutional divisions and the neglect and theft of state resources had led to widespread despair among the population.
Public discontent was further exacerbated by continued uncertainty about the future, and the absence of any signs of political progress. Numerous peace initiatives, both Libyan and international, were launched after 2011 to resolve the political crisis and prevent economic and social collapse.
These initiatives failed in spite of often sincere desires to find a consensual and lasting solution. This failure was due in large part to a growing disconnection between those involved in the negotiations and the everyday Libyans truly affected by the crisis.
Efforts focused on the political elite with the aim of finding power-sharing mechanisms to end the crisis – and hence often overlooked the need to include and consult the broader Libyan population as a basis for all solutions and agreements.
The main aim of the National Conference Process was therefore to bring the breadth of Libyan society back to the centre of the debate. This aim was achieved by organising meetings and consultations throughout the country and with diaspora groups abroad, thus providing a space for Libyans of all ages and social and educational backgrounds to interact.
Participation in the process was broad and inclusive. It included national elites and local power-brokers, as well as community leaders and everyday citizens. The meetings encouraged open and straightforward dialogue between participants, regardless of their status.
The consultations were run by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), based on a formal request from the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Libya. HD then conducted a series of preliminary meetings to explore what approach to take and ensure that it would be effective. These meetings served to decide the aims, agenda and main themes of the consultative process.
The initial meetings also helped design a comprehensive strategy aimed at encouraging all Libyans to participate in this process, whether through physical attendance in meetings or through an online platform. The hope was that by including as many Libyan citizens as possible, the process and its outcomes would be more credible.
The meetings of the National Conference Consultative Process were held from April 5 to July 11 2018. In contrast to previous political initiatives, these meetings set out to include parts of Libyan society and not only intellectual and political elites. For this purpose, HD designed events targeted at specific groups not previously included in the political process, such as displaced persons, women, university students, and people in geographically remote locations.
The process had to adapt to local varieties and constraints. In many of Libya’s large cities, multiple meetings were organised in order to ensure that the maximum number of people could take part.
In some areas it was not possible to organize consultation meetings due to security issues or logistical and practical obstacles. HD tried to overcome these difficulties by using digital communication to great effect and inciting participants who were unable to attend meetings to contribute via the website or social media platforms.
In all meetings, effective cooperation and communication with local officials and stakeholders was essential for the success of the process. In spite of ongoing instability and conflict in Libya, the process was able to take place with the invaluable support of citizens from cities, towns and villages throughout Libya.
Municipalities and other local institutions oversaw the coordination of the meetings including arranging the location, choosing people to preside the meetings and write the reports, and publicise the event to their local communities. This outreach frequently included interviews and advertisements with local radio, television and print media.
Information regarding the details of each meeting was also publicised on the National Conference Process social media platforms and website at least 48 hours before each event, in order to maximise participation. Both the preparatory stage for the consultative sessions and the meetings themselves represented a success for Libya and its people.
Each meeting in every city, no matter the number of attendees, provided an opportunity for Libyans to express their views on the future of their state. In this way the process also confirmed the determination of Libyans to rebuild their nation and their refusal to surrender to fragmentation and division.
1. National and Governmental Priorities
The consultation meetings of the National Conference Process opened with a session on national and government priorities. The general (and potentially ambiguous) term ‘priorities’ gave space for participants to express their views on the wide range of issues they considered to be most urgent. This made these sessions particularly lively and dynamic.
The phrasing also elicited questions about the meaning of ‘priorities’, as well as which authorities should address them. Should these be the same authorities associated with current institutional divisions? Or should these priorities be addressed by a legitimate and unified government? Is it even possible, some participants asked, to discuss priorities in a context of continued insecurity and falling living conditions?
Taken overall, the views of the participants in this first session expressed a shared sense of frustration with the ongoing divisions, dispersions, violence, looting and wasted resources. Many participants declared their anger and confusion that a country so rich in natural and human resources should find itself in so dire a predicament.
Others expressed outrage that Libya’s public services were so poor when the nation possessed such wealth. Some asked how it was possible or justifiable for Libya to be suffering financial liquidity crises when the country has financial assets all over the world.
For most participants, the greatest tragedy of all was that fighting and chaos continue to divide a country whose people are united by common identity, kinship and shared history. Ultimately, all discussions about priorities came back to this urgent need to reunite the nation and restore Libya’s sovereignty under a united government and national institutions.
This chapter highlights the main opinions that were shared in this session, many of which are further detailed later in this report.
1.1 Regaining sovereignty
Protecting Libya’s national sovereignty was constantly mentioned as the country’s highest national priority. No sustainable political solution will be possible or legitimate without this as a prerequisite. All participants agreed that restoring national unity and ensuring the protection of Libya’s borders are matters of paramount importance.
They furthermore agreed on the need for unified sovereign institutions, a unified and effective government, and effective security institutions to protect the country and its people.
The participants condemned all external interference in Libya’s internal affairs. Such interference is widely viewed as hostile, and exploiting and exacerbating internal conflicts. Many participants concurred, therefore, that it is the duty of all Libyan stakeholders to resist and oppose any external intervention.
Yet many participants also noted that rejecting foreign interference should not mean foregoing the benefits of positive international cooperation, such as sharing and exchanging knowledge and expertise with other countries. Investments and other business opportunities are also highly beneficial so long as such cooperation is based on mutual respect and common interest.
The overwhelming majority of participants saw no contradiction between calling for national unity and pursuing a more decentralized form of government. Many pointed out that a decentralized system would allow all municipalities and cities to play a full and effective role in the management and administration of their daily affairs, and better respond to the aspirations of Libyans.
19In the hope of reaching a common Libyan vision of the state, a significant proportion of the participants recommended the establishment of a national charter. This charter would outline the views of Libyans on the identity of the state, the unity of its territory, its religion, and guiding principles.
This document would not replace a constitution but rather act as a set of guidelines for the nation and its people. Participants also stressed that the final session of the National Conference should be held in Libya rather than abroad, underlining the importance of principles of sovereignty and independence in an event of this type.
1.2 Building an inclusive national government
A common grievance expressed by participants in the consultation process was the lack of any government that genuinely represents and unifies the population. They stressed the need for a government that will defend their interests and prioritise the stability and prosperity of the country.
Participants called for a national government based on neutrality and fair treatment of all Libyans, rather than quotas or shares for different communities. A commonly held view was that a future national government should acquire its national character through demonstrating its respect for all Libyan citizens and their rights without discrimination.
A truly national government should ensure the provision of essential public services to all regions throughout Libya. Likewise, no unjustified regional differentiation should be applied in the implementation of government programmes related to infrastructure, health, education, and other basic necessities.
Many participants emphasised the need for improved relations between national and local government. In and effectively functioning system, local officials would no longer need to waste time and resources on pressuring central authorities to transfer funds and implement programmes.
A common perception regarding local and national government relations was that the capital has become a centre for networking with officials who “open the funding tap” on the basis of loyalties and private calculations.
The great majority of participants also agreed that the immediate priority for a new government should be national reconciliation. Addressing issues of reconciliation at local and national level was widely considered an essential precondition for progress in building national unity and effective national institutions.
Participants also called for an effective national government that was transparent and meritocratic. A major cause of poor governance in Libya, many agreed, was that government appointments have not been based on skills and talent, leading to profound administrative defects in government institutions, with negative effects on many sectors. A range of differing opinions were expressed as to the best mechanisms to ensure all parts of society are fairly represented in the government.
Despite these differences of opinion, it was unanimously agreed that a central pillar of the national government must be a commitment to professionalism and efficiency, drawing on proven technical and academic expertise and knowledge.
1.3 Unifying institutions
Participants were emphatic in calling for the unity of Libya’s national institutions and strongly condemned the continuation of existing divisions. Citizens cannot enjoy any security, they argued, while the military establishment is divided and the security institutions are fragmented.
The chaotic 20spread of weapons, they added, greatly exacerbates this insecurity. They also questioned whether it was feasible to discuss Libya’s economic prospects when the stability and functioning of strategic institutions such as the Central Bank, the National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Investment Authority are constantly under threat.
Many expressed doubts as to the feasibility of establishing decent public services in the current context of institutional corruption and political intrigue. Vital sovereign institutions have been overtaken and hijacked by actors preoccupied with the power struggle and preserving their privileges.
These sovereign institutions include the Implementation and Management Agency of the Man-Made River Project, the General Electricity Company, the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the Supreme Council of the Libyan Judiciary and the Supreme Court of Libya.
1.4 Providing public services and reconstruction
While time is needed for Libya’s economy and key institutions to recover, the participants agreed that efforts must be made now to limit the deterioration and interruption of essential public services such as electricity, drinking water, medicine and medical equipment. Many urged that decentralization reforms should be activated at once to improve local municipal services.
There was widespread consensus that the provision of these basic services is rapidly declining not only in remote areas but also in major cities. In this context, it was agreed, all political factions and armed formations should ensure that sovereign institutions and vital infrastructure are preserved from conflicts so that essential food and medicine supplies can reach citizens.
1.5 Reinforcing the judiciary
The participants generally expressed satisfaction with the country’s judiciary, concurring that it has so far succeeded in maintaining trust and avoiding many potential obstacles arising from the political division. Justice is the basis of prosperity, it was agreed, and the sanctity of the judiciary and supremacy of its decisions must be protected from the interference political groups and armed formations.
Strengthening the judiciary and supporting its development is an important commitment. Nevertheless, participants agreed that there is an urgent need for investigation into administrative and financial violations, economic looting and corruption. This investigation, they declared, should be undertaken by the judiciary and its distinguished bodies, such as the Supreme Court, the Administrative Court, and the Audit Bureau.
The participants believed these bodies are capable of carrying out this role provided they are invoked unconditionally and are free from political influence and threats. Despite notable confidence in the judiciary, participants expressed strong concerns about the increasing number of violations of judicial decisions. Courts are also increasingly disregarded by some political parties and armed formations, and judges are frequently exposed to threats that violate the prestige of this institution. For these reasons some participants called for the creation of administrative oversight bodies to supervise the work of the judiciary.
1.6 Supporting reconciliation through fair distribution of resources
Participants emphasised the need for a process of genuine and comprehensive reconciliation. Previous empty promises, or so-called ‘reconciliation’ between figures that represented neither side of a conflict, have only led to greater discontent.
Participants agreed that the question of resource distribution was at the centre of many disputes, and fair distribution would greatly support reconciliation efforts. Many had hoped that the freedom and democracy that they had hoped for in 2011 would lead to this fairer system of distribution, after decades of accumulation of wealth, power, and rank by politicians at the expense of the Libya people.
This mismanagement and corruption had particularly effected regions that are remote from the capital. Unfortunately, in the view of most participants, the freedom and democracy hoped for in 2011 has not transpired. Instead, the opportunity to build a nation that treats Libyans fairly has given way to unchecked corruption, looting, and theft of public money. The drivers of conflict are thus even more present than before.
Therefore, two main ingredients are required to achieve reconciliation First, the distribution of wealth and services must be done equally, without discrimination between regions and groups, and must include all who have suffered political, social, and economic exclusion. Second, looting,
illegal commerce in all its forms, and cross-border corruption including tampering with Libya’s frozen assets frozen abroad must be prevented.
The majority of participants called on the international community to support Libyan-led efforts to overcome these problems. In particular, they called for help in securing the country’s borders, ensuring respect for human rights, and preventing practices such as human trafficking.
1.7 The end of the transitional phase
A major priority for all participants was to end the transitional phase as soon as possible. For more than four decades, Libyans have suffered stagnation, recession and inertia. And while prospects seemed to improve in 2011, the years since have only seen repeated cycle of transition, including constitutional declarations that are soon overturned.
In the view of many participants, ending the transition requires holding elections on a constitutional basis. Establishing a new government and elected bodies, they argue, will make it easier to tackle other priorities.
1.8 Economic recovery and the end of systematic looting of national resources
The participants stressed how greatly Libyans had suffered from economic mismanagement and corruption. This suffering is often – and detrimentally – described in simplistic terms such as “the collapse of the currency”, “the absence of basic goods and services” or “the lack of liquidity”. Yet behind these terms are tragedies the Libyans face on a daily basis.
Many business people have lost their capital and livelihoods because of the sudden collapse of the Libyan dinar. Many heads of families have been blackmailed when seeking finances to sustain their families. And many sheikhs, women, and children remain stuck in private hospitals in neighbouring countries because those supporting them have not received their salaries or are unable to withdraw money from the bank.
The participants called for all national efforts to mobilise Libya’s resources to implement economic, financial, and monetary policies that restore people’s livelihoods, health, and basic needs. They welcomed cooperation with the international community to enable the transfer of expertise from countries that have recovered from similar crises.
The consultation meetings did not cover Libya’s economic and financial issues in depth. This was because despite the participation of financial and academic experts, the meetings were not considered an appropriate context for such technical discussions. Instead, participants drew on their own experience in proposing practical steps to resolve the economic crisis.
The foremost demand was to free banks and bank branches from the control of armed groups. The participants pointed out that in some cases, armed groups had forced the appointments of incompetent people to high positions in banks and financial institutions.
A large number of the participants bemoaned the widespread corruption, and the unprecedented and systematic looting of public money and national wealth. The discussions on this issue often returned to the need for unity of institutions and rebuilding the state. A sense of anger and bitterness about the economic situation was frequently expressed, especially with regard to the National Oil Corporation, the Central Bank, and Libyan assets abroad.
Many urged that all those responsible for tampering with these national sovereign institutions should be held accountable. It was further stressed that these assets must be safeguarded not only to help during the current crisis, but also for future generations.
With regard to the future, the participants agreed that any strategy for economic recovery must prioritize employment training and decent jobs for young people. Beyond the current crisis, participants argued that Libya’s future economy will depend on realistic plans to diversify the sources of national income. This entails gradually ending the culture of rent and dependence, and restoring decent work opportunities and possibilities for independent initiatives.
Only in this way, many participants agreed, can Libya end its excessive dependence on state resources and irrational subsidization of basic commodities. Such subsidisation is widely perceived as a way of buying the silence of Libyans and preventing political opposition.
Some suggested that the liberation of Libyans from tyranny and oppression entails gaining independence from support and public sector pensions, thereby liberating the creative individual and collective energy of Libya.
Many participants voiced objections to the role played by the media in Libya and the divisive effects of current media discourse. They called on the media to foster a spirit of harmony and play a positive role rather than creating and aggravating differences between Libyans.
Many recommended the creation of a code of ethics or charter for the media. The charter would be a binding document, outlining priorities and principles. Having all relevant organizations sign this charter would help create a transparent and impartial media.
Some recommended that efforts be taken to create a more harmonious media discourse. This could be done, they argued, by implementing laws governing the operations of media organizations in accordance with the professional frameworks responsible for them.
A small number of participants called for controls to be imposed on media institutions found to be sowing strife and threatening the social and political fabric.
to be continued