Saturday, August 30, 2008

Libya Reinvents Itself

Libya - a byword in the 1970s and 80 for the state sponsorship of terrorism - is back in the international fold as the country's President has reinvented himself as
Friend of the West.

Libya's reintegration into the diplomatic community of nations has been carefully negotiated and choreographed over the last five years. From abandoning its plans to become a nuclear power to its decision to pay compensation to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing (for which a Libyan agent is in prison and about to launch his second appeal against his conviction), Libya's transformation has been dramatic.

One factor behind this diplomatic goodwill is the opportunity for trade and business. UN sanctions, imposed on the back of the Lockerbie disaster, have been lifted and the flow of inward investment into the oil rich nation has been steadily increasing. Oil reserves under Libya's Saharan sands are put at 45 billion barrels, ranking the country's reserves tenth in the world.

The regime's commitment to develop its energy and other industries is shown in the increasing flow of the country's brightest and best to study overseas at British and American universities. One source has stated that current spending on overseas education of Libyan students totals over $60 million.

Holidays are more accessible than ever. And, inevitably, opportunities are emerging for real estate investment in Libya.

Before becoming too ecstatic, however, it is worth remembering that at present there is no free press in Libya, that human rights activists are routinely
arrested and tortured and that no independent organisations are permitted to operate inside the country.

The English-speaking
Tripoli Post provides a window into the world of the official Libyan media. Independent bloggers such as Weda from Banghazzi are rare. Several others, including Libyans resident overseas, are listed here.

Unemployment is running at 30% and the country is also a key transit route for the
trafficking of drugs from Egypt, Morocco and Turkey into Europe. Libya is also the main springboard for African migrants attempting to sail to Italy. An estimated 100 000 illegal migrants attempt to cross to Italy each year from Libya.

At present, the country is celebrating the 39th anniversary of the revolution that brought Colonel Gadaffi to power. The leader of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (to give the country its official name) took the opportunity last week at a speech in Benghazi to extol the virtues of privatisation, promising sweeping economic reforms and the distribution of oil wealth to its citizens and predicted that Libyan society would "reformulate itself in a new, free, and democratic way". The CIA factbook entry on Libya puts things somewhat more cautiously:
Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy, but initial steps - including applying for WTO membership, reducing some subsidies, and announcing plans for privatization - are laying the groundwork for a transition to a more market-based economy.
Recent visitors to Libya have included Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, sealing a multi-billion dollar economic package, including the building of a highway across Libya's Mediterranean coast. American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit Libya this Friday - the first such visit for over 50 years.

Other international visitors to Libya in recent weeks have included hundreds of tribal chiefs and kings from across Africa who gathered to hear Colonel Gadaffi's vision of pan-African unity and to declare the Libyan ruler to be "king of kings". Clearly, the Colonel's long-standing vision of pan-Arab and pan-African unity remains alive. The formation of the African Union in 1999 is one of the fruits of this vision, though the Libyan leader's idea of a single African currency seems far off at present.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email or RSS.

No comments: