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Friday 22 September 2023

Libya's Ongoing Struggles: From Geopolitics to Natural Disasters

Javed Ali

Libya, a nation once hailed as the jewel of North Africa, has tragically become synonymous with instability, conflict, and suffering. It faces multifaceted issues plaguing Libya, ranging from geopolitical interests to the recent natural disaster caused by the storm Daniel.

Libya's turmoil is far from being a localized conflict. It has become a battleground for global and regional powers seeking to advance their interests. Countries like Russia and Turkey have recognized Libya's strategic importance. Russia, for instance, uses Libya as an African logistics hub, while Turkey initially sought to establish a presence in both the Sahel and East Africa. An overlap of geopolitical, economic, and ideological interests has drawn these nations into Libya's turmoil, leading to chaos rather than stability.

International Engagement

Surprisingly, non-P5 countries - not part of the UN's permanent Security Council members - have displayed greater ambitions and interests in Libya than larger, more influential nations. They have often acted as useful partners for P5 members, allowing them to achieve their goals indirectly while avoiding direct involvement. However, this approach has led to further chaos and moved them away from their actual interests.

Libya's Resource Management

Libya's oil wealth, approximately $22 billion in revenues last year, remains a contentious issue. While revenues are controlled by Libya's Western government, most of oil production occurs in eastern regions. The way oil money is collected and distributed creates opportunities for corruption and power consolidation within the government. This dysfunctional system has contributed to the state's instability.

To address this issue, Libyans have contemplated alternative approaches, such as establishing a sovereign wealth fund or implementing a universal basic income. These strategies could transform the distribution of wealth, fostering equal rights among Libyan citizens irrespective of their geographical origins. Such reforms would challenge the existing corrupt system and potentially reduce the drivers of conflict.

Natural Disasters and Governance

Libya's response to the devastating floods caused by the storm Daniel provides insight into the challenges governments face when dealing with natural disasters. Decades of infrastructure neglect, driven by corruption and a preference for profiting from government tenders rather than maintenance, created a catastrophe waiting to happen.

The failure to maintain dams, despite warnings from hydrologists, led to the dams' collapse, causing a massive surge of water that washed away entire districts of Derna. The calamity underscored the neglect of government responsibilities and highlighted the contempt for the people they are supposed to serve. The floods are a natural disaster but also a manmade catastrophe, a product of political negligence and corruption.

Opportunities Amidst Crisis

While natural disasters exacerbate existing issues, they can also create opportunities for change. The floods in Derna have generated shock, grief, and anger among Libyans who feel the government allowed this disaster to happen. This outrage could potentially drive political change as people demand accountability and change from their leaders.

However, whether this push for change will succeed or be stifled by entrenched political interests remains uncertain. The government's callous response, coupled with military dominance in various regions, poses significant obstacles to meaningful reform. Nonetheless, the hope for positive change persists among those who have long yearned for a better Libya.

International Response to Disasters

Natural disasters often reveal the strengths and weaknesses of governments, with initial responses often criticized for inadequacy. However, governments can either enhance their reputation by efficiently managing the disaster's aftermath or face criticism if the area remains in disrepair for an extended period. In many cases, governments and non-governmental groups exploit disaster responses for political or financial gain, potentially undermining recovery efforts.

Leaders' decisions to accept or reject international aid can be influenced by political considerations. They may fear that accepting aid from certain countries or organizations could bolster their adversaries or insert intelligence agents, undermining their power. However, refusing aid can also result in backlash and tarnished reputations.

The Role of the United States

As Libya continues to grapple with internal and external challenges, there is a growing debate about the role the United States should play in disaster response and overall stabilization efforts. While direct intervention may be challenging, the U.S. could take on a coordinating role, leveraging its expertise in orchestrating multilateral efforts.

By fostering international cooperation and coordination in Libya, the U.S. could help address the root causes of instability and conflict. This could lead to greater involvement in addressing Libya's ongoing crises, possibly enabling a shift away from the current geopolitical tug-of-war.

Libya's plight, marked by geopolitical interests, economic disputes, natural disasters, and governance failures, is a stark reminder of the complex challenges facing nations in turmoil. While the path to stability and prosperity remains uncertain, the hope for change persists among the Libyan people. International actors, particularly the United States, can play a role in catalyzing positive developments by fostering coordination and cooperation in addressing Libya's multifaceted crises. The road ahead is challenging, but with concerted efforts, there is a glimmer of hope for a brighter future for Libya and its people.
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