Libya's unity government faces a mammoth task ahead, but there has been no better time in recent history for the country to start uniting its institutions.
After years of divisions and fighting – and after months of negotiations – now Libya has a new government that aims to unify all Libyans.
Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) was sworn in with representatives from both the warring sides that ruled over the eastern and western parts, as an attempt to bring stability ahead of the elections in December.
The House of Representatives (HoR), the Libyan parliament, has been divided since 2015 and hasn’t held an official session for years. Recently, leaders managed to get members to convene and endorse a national unity government and a vote of confidence from rival members of the parliament – all of which should be seen as a significant development.
However, the new government will face great challenges given the years of conflict between the internationally recognised government in the west, and a rival administration to the east. Libyans are tired of the divisions and want to see state institutions unified, so they can better serve and bring better services to citizens.
Before 2011, Libya was exporting roughly 1.8 million barrels of oil a day and considerable amounts of natural gas. The conflict that divided the country in 2011, damaging port cities, drilling stations and refineries, had an overwhelming impact on the economy.
Since 2011, Libya has not only descended into violence and social breakdown but has come under the yoke of various militias who have taken advantage of the political instability that weakened state institutions and damaged the economy.
Militias, especially in the east of Libya, rely on various illicit activities including corruption, extortion, confiscation of private properties, smuggling of oil-refined products and capital flight to foreign countries to sustain their operations. The end result? The Libyan people continue to suffer from interlinked political and economic crises.
The civil war has led to significant youth unemployment and economic imbalances; large-scale electricity, water and gas cuts; years of corruption; and a failure to combat the spread of Covid-19. All of this has led to protests over the last year. The GNU will have to pay close attention to the demands of the people. The conflict has led to tremendous suffering and economic hardship.
The unification of vital institutions, including the Central Bank of Libya, and establishing a single exchange rate across the country should be an expedited objective of the new government to help resolve economic problems that obstruct a political solution to the conflict. The GNU must develop important economic reforms and restore public confidence in the management of Libya’s economy.
The good news is that the present political environment can help build momentum for bringing together the country’s economic institutions. On the other hand, the complex interlinking of conflicting interests – both within Libya and outside of the country – could easily jeopardise this process.
Providing security is another major uphill task for the unity government. Libya’s new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh said that he plans on unifying Libya's state institutions, including the military, which has been divided between eastern Libya controlled by warlord Khalifa Haftar and western Libya, previously controlled by the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
The UN is facilitating military where the Joint Military Committee 5+5, will bring together military officials from the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and forces aligned with Khalifa Haftar. The aim is to unify the military but that's not going to be an easy task as long as there no clear sign of progress on the military side of the conflict. For instance, as part of the ceasefire agreement last year in October, Misrata – Sirte roads were supposed to be opened to connect population centers of the country’s east and west, but that has not happened yet.
According to the UN, there were 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries in Libya at the end of 2020, and no departures have been observed since. As part of the ceasefire agreement, foreign fighters and mercenaries were supposed to leave the country in three months.
While the unity government needs to come together to unify Libya’s military, first it must force these mercenaries out of the country or risk spoiling the process.
The goal of a lasting political situation in Libya will take time but having a first unified government in seven years should be seen as a vital step towards reconciliation after all the obstacles Libyans have faced. The International community needs to now provide more practical assistance to the GNU to move towards economic and political stability and prevent spoilers, either domestic or foreign, from shifting Libya’s hard-earned achievements into a renewed conflict.
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