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Behind the Scenes: Visiting Libya


By: Peter Millett*

Two weeks ago, we arranged a visit to Libya by our Foreign

Peter Millett

Secretary, Boris Johnson.  We went to Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi.  This followed a visit in May when he visited Tripoli and Tobruk.

These visits involve careful planning and a lot of preparation.  Working with colleagues in London and with the Libyan authorities, we worked to ensure that the visit was a success.

How do you measure “success”?  One measure is that the visit runs smoothly and enables our Minister to meet the key players and understand what makes Libyans tick.  Another measure is that we get our messages across to the public, both in Libya and in the UK.

Mr. Johnson certainly met many of the Libyans who will influence and take decisions on the future of their country. He assured them of our strong support for the efforts of the United Nations’ envoy Ghassan Salame to bring peace and stability to Libya. And he also announced £15m of humanitarian and development assistance to Libya.

Some of the meetings did not hit the headlines.  But they were nonetheless important and worthwhile.

In Tripoli, he met representatives of women’s groups and discussed a UK-funded project to promote women’s rights.  The Embassy has recently signed a contract with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting called “Ante Raeda” or “You are a Pioneer.”

The aim is to work with civil society groups who can make a difference.  Women makeup 50% of Libyans and should be seen as a major asset and talent pool for the country’s future.

This is not straightforward:  navigating Libya’s culture, crises and conflicts is no easy task. Genuine Civil Society Organisations were nonexistent during the Gaddafi era.  They are starting from a low base.  It is therefore essential for those who are trying to give women an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the authorities, the knowledge, best practice and confidence to enable them to do so effectively.

The Foreign Secretary discussed these issues with a group of women in Tripoli and encouraged them in their endeavors.

In Misrata, he focused on demining.  He met representatives of Danish Demining Group who have been funded by the UK to undertake surveys of places where mines have been laid and remove some of the danger to citizens.

He also met contractors who will be training Libyans to tackle mines and improvised explosive devices.  The aim is to enable the citizens of places like Sirte to return safely to their homes.  The British government is providing £3m of demining equipment for this project. The representatives explained to Mr. Johnson the complexity of the task and the dangers involved.

On to Benghazi, where we met Tatweer Research.  This innovative company has a vision for the future of Libya.  And they are doing something about it.  They can see that Libya is far too dependent on two things: income from oil and gas, which makes about 90% of the government’s income.  And the public sector where around 90% of the total work force is employed.

This economic model is unsustainable.  The world is abandoning its love affair with the internal combustion engine, and cars in future will be powered by electricity.  That electricity will be generated by renewable sources.

So countries like Libya who are dependent on oil exports need to look at new sources of income: building a knowledge economy by tapping into homegrown talent and developing ambitious young minds to create jobs from innovation, entrepreneurship, and science.

Tatweer is supporting the development of the Elmreisa Free Zone outside Benghazi will generate an estimated 60,000 direct jobs and a further 450,000 indirect jobs. This project draws heavily on expertise from British companies and institutions.

Was the visit a success?  To coin a phrase from a British TV show: Yes, Minister!

*The British Ambassador to Libya