Aid workers say capacity-building is the key to building a sustainable peace.


On February 17th Libya marked the second anniversary of the revolt that ultimately toppled Muammar Gaddafy. Thousands of people gathered in Tripoli and Benghazi to celebrate the initial protest that sparked what was to become a historic uprising two days later.

Meanwhile, the Libyan revolution’s backers in the international community gathered in Paris last week, where they pledged to provide continuing security support to the country’s nascent democratic government. Officials from Africa, the Middle East, the US and Europe attended the summit at the French Foreign ministry in Paris.

“Much has already been achieved but issues remain,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in his opening address to the gathering. International partners should send “experts to train Libyan security forces and police, and help to rebuild the army, navy and air force”, he said.

Libya’s international partners confirmed their full support for the interim government in its determination to implement a plan to enhance national security, boost justice and rule of law, and build a democratic, prosperous and stable state.

In some quarters there is evidence of a new national pride, but the conflict in Libya has given rise to strong expectations that reconstruction and rebirth will quickly improve the lives of ordinary people.

“Expectations are very high. Some people say the government has done nothing. But actually the government has done a lot of work on security. But not everyone is aware of this,” Essam Garbaa, a senior official at the Ministry of Planning, told humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN.

Despite being one of the most violent Arab Spring revolutions, two years after the first protests Libya has yet to witness the demonstrations seen in recent weeks in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

But that does not mean the current peace is secure, and humanitarian issues remain.

Sixty thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) await an eventual return home, thousands are still being detained in prisons outside government control, and Libyans in the southern deserts frequently lack access to many basic services. Agencies such as  the World Food Programme (WFP), donor organizations like European aid body ECHO and international NGOs like Save the Children have pulled out.

They leave  behind a country which continues to face humanitarian issues, many linked to the post-conflict environment, but which has the potential to support itself.

“The humanitarian situation doesn’t require a typical kind of logistical humanitarian support,” said Georg Charpentier, UN deputy special representative and resident coordinator in Libya. The focus of the UN and donors is on supporting the transition process to avoid another breakdown in law and order.

The return to pre-conflict oil production levels of around 1.5m barrels a day means there is money available for the country’s six million people. But that also puts pressure on those in charge.

“We have very little time,” says Carel de Rooy from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “This toxic combination of very high expectations, loads of money and institutions inexperienced in delivering rapid results is a dangerous combination, and time is not a luxury.”

Tripoli, Libya (Picture: Bilal Kamoon)
Tripoli, Libya (Picture: Bilal Kamoon)

Capacity-building in the humanitarian sector has focused on LibAid, set-up in 2006 when Gaddafy was still in charge, and run as a semi-autonomous government humanitarian operation.

With UN support, it runs the main database of IDPs and carries out food distributions to the 10,000 IDP families.

“Libya is a very rich country but we need to build capacity, we need expertise on how to build things and advice. Actually, we have enough resources but we need international capacity-building support, and we can share experiences,” said Mohamed Al Sweii, an adviser on international cooperation and coordination with LibAid.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) still works on monitoring conditions at IDP camps and, despite the work of LibAid, they have found they have had to stay involved longer than planned.

“I thought we would disengage much quicker. We had in mind June 2012 for an end of assistance and then a kind of phasing out from July onwards to December… We’re readjusting now,” said head of mission Emmanuel Gignac.

But insecurity remains a concern in many places, and in February militia roadblocks returned to Tripoli. Gunfire is regularly heard, even if it seems in many cases guns may only be being fired in celebration.

The international conference in Paris put security and justice high on the agenda: “It’s really the two areas where this sort of shift from this revolutionary state of mind to one of building new institutions and moving forward has to really take place,” said Charpentier.

A widespread reorganization of militia forces remains for the future, but the importance of reintegration and demobilization is emphasized by donors. The summit wrapped up with the Paris Declaration, which noted the challenges facing Libya included reintegrating former revolutionaries, disarmament and border security.

Participants welcomed the EU’s decision to send a civilian mission under Europe’s Common Security and Defence Policy with a mandate to evaluate the the management of Libya’s borders. The mission is scheduled to be deployed in June.

“In every post-conflict situation, I think the international community has learned about the importance of integrating ex-fighters to avoid the negative impact of having militia groups and paramilitaries. If we can help in this regard, we will do what we can”, Peter Stano, spokesperson for Štefan Füle, Commissioner in charge of Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy at the European Commission (EC), told IRIN.

The EC has a 25m euro aid programme in 2013 to support the democratic transition; to improve security and the rule of law, education and health care, including a vocational programme that aims to reduce youth unemployment and contribute to integrating ex-fighters.

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is running programmes for military officers, including former revolutionaries, on the importance of international humanitarian law.

“The primary risks we’re facing are related to security and the overall post-conflict setting, but also the weak administration that’s a legacy of the Gaddafi era and the lack of a public sector culture of running a state for its citizens,” said Stano.

The underlying message from the aid community is that a key challenge for sustainable peace is an effective government, equipped and resourced to improve the conditions of its citizens.

The government has shown itself open to outside technical support, providing such expertise is suited to the context.

As the UN’s de Rooy says: “If one brings in the right expertise – high-level, fluent Arabic speaking, one can have an important impact… The situation now has moved quite clearly and dramatically from an array of humanitarian interventions to a developmental agenda, much more upstream work.”

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