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.
Mitigating Conflict Dynamics and Reducing the Role of Armed Groups in the Economy
The launch of the LAAF offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 sank UN-led efforts to convene a national conference to agree a path of transition out of Libya’s governance crisis.
The international response to the LAAF’s move was muted. There was neither a UN Security Council resolution over a ceasefire nor any efforts to enforce the arms embargo. A lack of sincere effort to prevent increasing external intervention in Libya has exacerbated the conflict.
At the time of writing, Libyan combatants are heavily reliant upon external actors for their survival on the battlefield. International escalation has been met with counter-escalation.
By November 2019 the LAAF’s air superiority, combined with the support of mercenaries provided by the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, appeared to have placed Haftar’s forces in a position to move into Tripoli.
However, the signing of agreements between the GNA and Turkey in December redressed the balance, making Haftar’s military objectives appear distant once again.
The deployment into the Tripoli theatre of Syrian fighters paid by the Turkish armed forces illustrates how far the conflict has expanded since April 2019.
These developments have also heightened the propaganda war, prompting allegations that the GNA is bringing Islamist extremist fighters to Libya and that it has sold out to Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions.
The signing of a communiqué at a conference in Berlin in January 2020, the first to bring together all of the external actors meaningfully engaged in Libya, has reiterated international commitment to the arms embargo.
The signatories have sought to initiate a process for agreeing a lasting ceasefire and beginning political negotiations. The Berlin communiqué was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2510 on 12 February, albeit with Russia’s abstention.
Yet at the time of writing in March 2020, there was no indication that these commitments would be backed with tangible action. An oil blockade initiated only two days prior to the conference in Berlin remains in place and is having a catastrophic impact on Libya’s finances.
Without commitment to enforcing the arms embargo and preventing the economy from being weaponized, Libya will be consigned to sustained conflict, further fragmentation and potential economic collapse.
This is a difficult context in which to draw lessons for policymakers. Nonetheless, this chapter seeks to articulate conclusions from the analysis presented in this paper and assess options for mitigating Libya’s conflict in the security, social and economic spheres.
Ultimately, Libya’s interlinked political, security and economic crises can be solved only through a political settlement that sustainably addresses security concerns and paves the way for fundamental reform of the rentier system of economic governance.
The latter is a key driver of conflict, engendering violent competition for control of lucrative rent streams and the capture of state assets.
Lessons from other contexts indicate that a political settlement that relies upon dividing the spoils among warring actors is not likely to be sustainable, as those excluded or who perceive themselves to have been disadvantaged will seek to redress the balance through violence.
Developing a just and sustainable resolution should of course remain the priority of the international community.
However, in the likely absence of such a settlement in the short term, international policymakers should reassess how they engage with Libya’s security sector, in order to reduce its fragmentation and increase its professionalism and accountability.
Policymakers should also seek to prevent the continued expansion of the conflict economy. In the context of the current war, however, engagement with the security sector comes with significant hazards, particularly if parallel processes of security sector development are pursued by the opposing blocs.
A reduction in armed group engagement in the economy can be effected through pursuit of criminal justice-led approaches and support for the development of alternative livelihoods.
Security-based solutions: reforming the Libyan security sector
Internationally developed approaches to security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) have failed to respond effectively to the fragmented nature of Libya’s security sector or to the limited capacity of the national military and intelligence institutions intended to protect the Libyan state.
Such institutions suffer from the absence of a social contract between citizens and the state, which goes a long way towards explaining why so-called ‘national’ institutions remain so weak.
Internationally convened meetings in London (2011) and Paris (2012) were part of a significant effort to engage the Libyan government and organize international support for SSR.
This process was cut short by the 2014 conflict between the ‘Libya Dawn’ and ‘Libya Dignity’ alliances and by the subsequent governance split.
Critically, the Libyan National Transitional Council’s approach to integrating armed revolutionary groups led to the creation of parallel institutions such as military councils and supreme security committees.
These councils and committees in many cases sought not to support formal national institutions but to replace them (due to their connections to the Gaddafi regime).
This left the integration of elements of the Gaddafi-era military and security apparatus to the discretion of these same structures rather than formal state institutions.
The councils and committees integrated groups of combatants – and allowed them to retain their own chains of command – rather than recruiting fighters individually.
The subsequent GNC oversaw a military training project that despatched recruits for training in over a dozen countries. However, the selection of recruits was flawed, their command and control limited, and the function of the forces unclear.
SSR and DDR attempts in the post-2014 period have been piecemeal and have repeated previous patterns, revolving around the creation of new forces rather than the integration of individuals and groups into formal branches of the armed forces and intelligence apparatus.
For example, the creation of the al-Bunyan al-Marsus (‘Impenetrable Edifice’) operations room in 2015 to combat the growing threat of ISIS established yet another parallel force alongside the Counter Terrorism Force (an offshoot of the al-Bunyan al-Marsus operations room).
A lack of political will and lack of alignment between the GNA and elements of these groups complicated their integration once ISIS was ousted from Sirte. Meanwhile, political settlement efforts have lacked a meaningful security component.
An Egyptian-led process to negotiate army reunification was undermined by overt Egyptian support for Haftar, and was concluded without agreement in 2018.
There have been few serious attempts at DDR. Only one national programme – the Warriors Affairs Commission, later rebranded as the Libyan Programme for Rehabilitation and Development – has been deployed by the state to focus on the social, political and economic integration of ex-combatants in Libya’s post-war society.
Yet this programme was not given the required resources and has been defunct since 2015. The absence of consensus at national level means that attempts at SSR and DDR have mostly taken place locally (albeit not within a framework of democratic civilian control, as required by accepted international definitions of SSR and DDR).
These initiatives have been of limited success in the west of the country, where integration of armed groups into state structures has been undermined by the fact that community loyalties continue to trump institutional capacity.
The relative effectiveness and capability of local groups in providing security has created a de facto ‘revolutionary guard’ model, wherein influential leaders within the groups are able to coerce, mobilize and manage formal state institutions and deployments.
Ministers, deputy ministers and other senior leaders in the defence and security sectors are often chosen or put forward by leaders of armed groups, and would not be able to operate effectively without them.
This highlights the reality that power in Libya still lies in social connections rather than within powers theoretically accorded to state institutions.
In other cases, armed groups have integrated elements of the defence and security apparatus into their forces to boost their own effectiveness – i.e. recruiting professionally trained soldiers, police and intelligence officers – rather than the other way around. Many of the more effective armed groups have implemented this approach.
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.