02 April 2019

2019- Reconciliation year in Libya?

Claudiu Nebunu

Image source: Mediafax

Libya has been under Muammar Gaddafi’s leadership for more than 40 years. On 20th of October 2011, he was killed and the country entered in a chaos that even today it is trying to get out of. Divided between different East, West and South factions, the state to have the biggest oil reserves in the African continent has become a battlefield of different armed groups/ militias for influence and funding sources. Some of the attempts made during last year for the organization of general elections have failed due to the main internal actors and the security situation as well. Many countries, especially France and Italy, have started to interfere in order to unlock the process, but perspectives are different. And there are many other obstacles as well in Libya’s stabilization process, the interests of the involved foreign and internal actors and other less known stakes (the “sweet” oil).

Libya, eight years since the Arab Spring

A society defined by strong clan and tribal connections, two rival authorities (in the West, the Government of National Accord/ GNA, installed in Tripoli, respectively in the East- Representatives Chamber/ Parliament from Tobruk) which are trying to impose their authority in the territory and armed groups/ militias created during the revolution, each of them following its own interests, are just some of the coordinates of Libya’s current situation.

The confrontations between different militias are taking place in the entire country, due to the support of one of the camp (East/West) for influence zones and funding sources. The control over oil infrastructure (extraction camps pipelines and terminals) is roughly disputed. Militias from Tripoli, chosen to cooperate with the Home Affairs Ministry, have contributed to the improvement of the security situation in the capital, but they have started a conflict with other armed groups. Rival militias outside Tripoli feel marginalized, being aware of the risk to lose access to state’s funds, and are trying to gain control over the capital.

How did they get here…

After Gaddafi’s death, it was installed an interim central authority- the National Transitional Council/ NTC, which has managed country’s leadership until the 2012 July elections. After the elections, NTC has peacefully gave the power to the National General Congress/ NGC, dominated by Islamists. Alike other countries affected by the Arab Spring (Tunis, Egypt), Islamists’ ascension has raised concerns among citizens. At the 2014 elections, NGC has lost the majority in the detriment of the secular formats. Despite elections results, NGC refused to give up the power, contesting the elections and claiming that they are the only lawful parliament. The result was the emergence of two “central administrations”- NGC in Tripoli, and the new chosen parliament (Representatives Chamber) in Tobruk. The tensions have escalated, hence a civil war has started between the two camps for the control over the entire national territory.

UN has actively interfered and, after the Skhirat Agreement/ Morocco, from autumn 2015, it was founded the Government of National Union/GNU, aiming at unifying both administrations. But things have stopped at this point, hence, as we speak, in Libya there is the GNU in Tripoli, internationally recognized and supported by loyal militias, and the Representatives Chamber (the parliament) in Tobruk, supported by General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the National Libyan Army (NLA). Both camps had violent conflicts for the control over the area to have large oil resources and their transport infrastructure, as well as for imposing authority over the entire territory.

There are divisions also in the South of the country, where tebu and tuareg tribes are in a conflict because of the support for one camp or the other. The terrorist groups affiliated to Islamic State or Boko Haram have taken advantage of this situation by trying to create a refugee in Libya, and also the guns, drugs and human traffickers. Because of the lack of a control over the national territory and borders’ permeability, Libya has become a transit area towards the European states for the migrants coming from Central Africa or other conflict areas.

Despite the UN efforts, no substantial step was made for the normalization of the situation. The last action plan for solving the crisis, announced by UN’s emissary in Libya, on 20th of September 2017, has faced a lot of obstacles, which raises questions on whether it will be ever successful (the initial deadline was the end of 2019, which already has passed). The plan had three steps:

  1. Amending the political agreement from Skhirat, by restarting the negotiations rounds through a national dialogue between the main internal Libyan actors;
  2. Organizing an extended national conference with the participation of the marginalized/ excluded entities from the political process;
  3. Organizing a referendum for the approval of the Constitution and the organization of presidential and general elections.

France, Italy… and the Paris and Palermo conferences

Besides the more or less clear support of some regional and international actors to both camps, two European states stood out lately with their efforts to normalize the situation: France and Italy. Both countries have entered in a competition for projecting their influence in Libya, for different diplomatic and economic reasons, even risking to affect UN’s efforts to solve the situation. Obviously, both states want to stop Libya from becoming a shelter for terrorists and traffickers, but strategies are different.

Since the election of President Emmanuel Macron, France is trying to reinforce its relations with Africa. Paris supports the East camp, thinking that it would be the best ally that could actually achieve the French interests. Hence, France is supporting the consolidation and extension of General Khalifa Haftar’s control, as well as his decision to run for the next elections.

The reason? The oil, gases and other minerals resources from the Libyan territory. The French company Total is extending its participation of the Libyan energy market, competing with the Italian group ENI. France is importing from Libya 15% from the necessary oil, and Italy 25%.

Macron is promoting the organization of elections, calling on the fact that it could be chosen and installed a single central administration, accepted by the majority, which would reduce the tensions and would stabilize the situation. But the legal framework for the elections is missing, hence France has organized in May, last year, a conference in Paris, whereat have participated four key internal actors, during which they have agreed on elaborating the constitutional bases for the elections and their organization on 10th of December 2018. Following their statements, participants got to an agreement, but in fact, nothing happened to that end.

Italy is also trying to extend its influence in Libya. Given that Libya was Italian colony, Rome is now trying to take the initiative and prove its own citizens, and EU’s as well, that it is able to manage the conflict. Actually, today, the only connection between the former colony and Italy is the migrants’ flux from Africa which passes through Libya and the Mediterranean Sea to get to South of Italy, and the new nationalist populist government from Rome’s objective is to stop this phenomenon.

Unlike France, Italy has chosen the West camp, thinking that GNU should be supported in order to impose the control over the territory and it is also supporting the idea of a stabilization of the security situation as a condition for elections’ organization. Hence, in November 2018, Italy has organized a conference in Palermo, where it has managed to gather, at the negotiations table, the leaders of both camps: GNU prime-minister, Fayez al-Sarraj and NLA commander, General Khalifa Haftar. The participants have committed to start the political reconciliation and stabilization process, proposed and monitored by UN, agreeing on the organization of an extended national conference (step 2), in January 2019, and the organization of parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2019 (step 3). It seems that, similar to what happened in Paris, at a declaratory level they agreed on something, but nothing concrete has actually happened. Ironically, the peace efforts of both countries have started a new “war”: the Italian ambassador was summoned by the French authorities after Italian officials (vice-prime-minister Luigi Di Maio and his colleagues, Matteo Salvini) have accused France for not having any interest in stabilizing Libya, but in the Libyan oil, and for supporting poverty in Africa to generate mass migration towards Europe.

A glimmer of hope?

In January 2019, the African Union (AU) has proposed the organization of a conference for the reconciliation in Libya in the first half of July and presidential and legislative elections in October.

Furthermore, the leaders of both camps (prime-minister GNU, Fayez al-Sarraj and NLA commander, General Khalifa Haftar) have met in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates/ UAE) and supported the “need to end transition and organize elections so that country’s stability to be ensured and institutions to be united”.

It remains to be tracked whether the third attempt will be successful or not…

Indeed, the agreement between the two key actors over the necessity to stabilize the country and to organize elections is a great step forward. However, there are many other obstacles to outreach. Firstly, the strong competition between the armed groups/militias, created during the revolution to guarantee their own interests: the influence areas, incomes, administration positions etc., their reconciliation being hard to achieve. Furthermore, they need a reconciliation process to include all the tribal, regional, military and political actors, as well as the unification of the divided/ doubled institutions between East/West camps.  Another challenge is militias’ disarmament, as they need to select and bring their members across the force structures or offer them alternative jobs.

Then, instability in Libya is increased also by the foreign interference of some regional or international actors, who are politically and military supporting opposed camps. Countries like Egypt and UAE have broken the embargo, by delivering armament, munition and fight technique to the East camp. On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey have politically supported the West camp. Italy and France were involved in the conflict, and now they are trying to get involved in the stabilization process as well, through different perspectives, following their own interests. Russia and China are somehow in stand-by, waiting for the proper opportunity to get actively involved.

Not least, the lack of a legislation to allow elections organization is another obstacle in normalizing the situation. The elaboration and promulgation of a constitution is a challenge, given that Libya did not have such a document since Gaddafi took the power in 1969.

About the “sweet” oil…

An article published a year ago in Nature Communication (February 2018) was presenting some alarming statistics on the damages the air polluted produced by ships brought to the human health.

The main responsible is a chemical element, Sulphur, present in all types of oil, in different quantities. If the Sulphur percentage is under 0.5%, the oil is classified as “sweet”. Otherwise, we are talking about “sour” oil, with up to 3, 5% medium Sulphur concentrations. The maritime transport are using a fuel named bunker, which is distilled in inferior derv, with a 3, 5% Sulphur concentration. Bunker is the cheapest liquid fuel available. However, at the same time, it is viscid (it has to be preheated before using it) and has, besides lots of Sulphur, other polluting substances as well (azote oxide, lead, PM2.5 powder, volatile organic compounds etc.), which are damaging for the people, animals and plants. Although maritime transports are 7% from the total of the industry, burning the bunker creates almost 90% from the Sulphur dioxide emissions of all transports.

All these concerning aspects have determined the International Maritime Organization (IMO) - an UN specialized agency for the regulation of transports through water- to impose a radical measure, IMO 2020: starting with 1st of January 2020, the Sulphur quantity of the used fuel in the maritime transport will have to be decreased from 3, 5% (at the moment) to 0, 5%.

What is the connection with Libya? The Libyan oil is “sweet”! Which means tempting. Very tempting.

And the “sweet” oil resources are limited to some countries (US, Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya)…