Libya: Work In Progress


May 22, 2012:  The NTC (National Transitional Council) is national in name only. There is no real central government in Libya, and many parts of the country are not ruled at all but in chaos because of disputes between local militias. The militias were often formed by traditional tribal leaders, or just some local guy who was charismatic enough to organize his own little army during last year's rebellion. Getting these gunmen to disarm has proved difficult but not impossible. The required negotiations take weeks or months and the NTC does not have enough qualified negotiators to speed up the process. Meanwhile most Libyans want their Kaddafi-era welfare state back but bigger and better. Kaddafi held power for so long, despite his bizarre behavior and mismanagement, by spending over half the oil income on a shabby, but effective, welfare state. Anyone who misbehaved had their benefits cut off. But Kaddafi would also cut benefits for the extended family of those who opposed him. This was a remarkably effective way to run a police state. With Kaddafi and his secret police gone, people want their welfare state and not a shabby one either. But without control of the entire country, the interim government has no way to deliver the expected goodies. Then there's the corruption, with many militia leaders inclined to grab local welfare funds for themselves. The new Libya is a work in progress and will probably continue to be one for some time.

The militias are also causing problems with their approach to law and order. Many militiamen are still hunting for Kaddafi supporters and imprisoning them. This often leads to torture and murder, as few of the militias have judges and lawyers available for a proper prosecution. Recognizing the inefficiency of the warlord culture, many militia leaders are running in the June elections. That may help stabilize things. But if the experience in many other countries is a guide, the militias supporting individual politicians will probably last for a while.

The oil industry has made a rapid recovery from the damage inflicted during last year's rebellion. Production is now 1.5 million barrels a day, just short of the pre-war level of 1.6 million. The pre-war level is to be hit next month. From there, production will be increased, over the next three years, to three million barrels a day, a level not seen in Libya since the 1970s. To do this the NTC (and whatever national government is elected next month) has to get the banking system stabilized and make the country safe enough to attract foreign investors. Doubling oil output will cost $30 billion and a lot of that money will have to be borrowed. That's because much of current oil revenue has to be used to provide public services.

May 21, 2012:  Moamar Kaddafi's former intelligence chief, Abdullah al Senoussi, has been jailed in Mauritania for trying to enter the country in disguise (as a Tuareg). Senoussi is wanted in Libya and France for various crimes. He is also a potential source of insider information on the Kaddafi government.

May 19, 2012: The first local elections in over 40 years were held in Benghazi, where 414 candidates competed for 41 seats on the city council of Benghazi. Over 200,000 were registered to vote and turnout was heavy. National elections are on June 19, but many in eastern Libya are calling for autonomy and a boycott of the national vote. The results of this local election will show how strong the separatists are. So far, 1.2 million have registered for the national elections.

May 16, 2012: In the southwestern (600 kilometers from the capital) border town of Ghadames locals fought with Tuareg tribesmen, leaving one local and five tribesmen dead. The clash took place near the Algerian border. The fighting was over control of a checkpoint and access to smuggling routes.

May 13, 2012:  Two people were killed by a landmine on the Egyptian border.


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