The future of Libya is one of economic renewal and diversification. With political stability comes the promise of investment and intra-African trade.
Internal conflict has dogged Libya’s economy since the first civil war in 2011, triggered by the Arab Spring. And while recent years have seen the cultivation of hard-fought stability, no final settlement has been achieved.
There are still two presidents ruling the country: Mohamed al-Menfi in Tobruk, Chairman of the Presidential Council, and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, leader of the Government of National Accord. Yet, both are interested in establishing peace and reinvesting in infrastructure as well as recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, as elections approach, both presidents are willing to accept democracy, ratified by an external source.
Certainly, the recent conflicts that have arisen in Libya have been comparatively minor and are usually solved in hours and days instead of months, with government officials arriving on the scene to facilitate open communication.
Despite the difference in viewpoints, all parties are therefore committed to fostering a period of growth and prosperity, founded on democracy and peace.
Responding to global challenges
But Libya has also had to contend with evolving global challenges, such as the current war in Ukraine. The sanctions placed on Russia have impacted Libya’s agricultural sectors, resulting in a 10 to 20% shortfall in wheat and seed imports.
This has been somewhat mitigated by both replacement imports of grain, minimising disruption, and by an increase in oil revenue. While Libya’s oil export capabilities remain below their peak, oil export prices have almost doubled since the beginning of the conflict, boosting revenue.
This has allowed Libya to bridge the revenue gap it was experiencing within the oil sector. Meanwhile, the relative fiscal freedom afforded by the additional income has allowed necessary investments to be made into the country’s infrastructure, which is further aiding recovery.
Can Libya afford to rely on oil alone?
However, some headwinds are approaching. Europe is focusing on sustainable development and using renewable energy sources, in a bid to decrease carbon emissions and fossil fuel reliance, slowly reducing its use of hydrocarbons in favour of green energy.
Given that the oil sector currently accounts for around 98% of Libyan Government revenues , decreasing European reliance on fossil fuels in the coming decades could pose a significant threat to Libya’s recovery.
Libya as a conduit for trade
Europe is not the only market for Libya’s oil, however. The country’s geographic and political links to a rapidly developing Africa mean that there will be demand for oil from the emerging and industrialising economies to the south.
This trade with Africa is built on historically positive relationships, helped in part by Libya’s previous commitment to promoting African unity.
Libya also has the potential to forge a key role in Arab-African trade, due to its membership to the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).
Although the country is not a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), it offers a promising link between Africa and the Middle East. By maintaining positive relationships with both African and Middle Eastern nations, Libya can support and benefit from AfCFTA initiatives.
One such initiative is the drive to formalise undocumented cross-border trade, which is estimated by the African Import Export Bank at between 15% to 40% of all African trade .
By formalising intracontinental trade, Libya can then support African nations in their bid to be viewed as viable trading partners with the rest of the globe, as well as reducing smuggling and stabilising trade routes. And by improving trade links between Africa and the Middle East, Libya can also act as a conduit for African and European trade, in part due to its entrepôt location.
That said, a key focus for Libya’s future will be diversifying away from fossil fuels. Of course, oil will remain a staple for years to come. But the future cannot be ignored, and Libya needs to diversify. One sector on the rise is tourism, utilising its extensive coastline and rich cultural history.
Further diversification is also possible via both agriculture and solar power. Infrastructure development will be important for both, with an urgent need to upgrade roads, railways, and ports.
As peace and stability become embedded, however, Libya can attract investment, particularly from Europe. These investments will need to be facilitated by specialist banks who will continue to support the Libyan economy as it develops.
Indeed, FDI and diversification are the route to prolonged and sustainable growth in Libya. And in this respect, the prospects are promising.
Hatem Lukhai is the Head of the Libyan Coverage Team at British Arab Commercial Bank, responsible for managing relationships with financial institutions based in the core market of Libya. Lukhai was educated at the College of Economics and Politcs in Tripoli. A specialist in trade finance, notably handling letters of credit, Lukhai has over 15 years’ experience in the Libyan banking sector, at both BACB and the Libyan Foreign Bank.