Libya’s South: Less Political Rhetoric and More Action on the Ground Needed

The Libyan authorities have recently announced the south of Libya a military zone and appointed a military commander with certain executive and security powers to tackle the deteriorating security situation in the region.
However, the Libyan authorities failed to explain the situation to the public clearly and have opted instead for political rhetoric that historical tribal and ethnic tensions erupted after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and that foreign agendas and Gaddafi loyalists in neighbouring countries have fuelled these tensions. The Libyan media has also failed to address the issue in southern Libya and lacked any real professionalism to report to the public and the world what the unfolding situation in southern Libya is like in reality.
The authorities in Libya have failed to present the public and the media in Libya with any real progress reports with facts and figures about the numbers of units and personnel deployed, and such ambiguity suggests the lack of any real comprehensive vision or strategy to tackle the dangerous situation in Southern Libya. Moreover, southern Libya is bordered by African countries that are suffering from political and economic upheavals.
In addition, there is growing fear of the significant and growing active role AL Qaeda is playing in southern Libya especially in the areas bordering Algeria and Niger. International and domestic reports have highlighted the growing danger of Jihadi networks, which have reportedly established at least three training camps for recruits from neighbouring countries. These fears and concerns have been confirmed recently by the attack on the gas complex in In Amenas, which the Algerian authorities and other intelligence reports have linked directly to southern Libya. Despite these reports, the Libyan authorities have repeatedly distanced Libya from the attack in In Amenas. Furthermore, arms scattered all over Libya have now fallen into the hands of the Jihadi networks in North Africa and the Sahel region.
The unrest in Mali was worsened by the flow of arms from Libya into the hands of Islamist militants. The events have led to French led interventions to drive the Islamists out of Mali and regain control of the region. Many see this French led campaign as a revival of the historical colonial role of France in the region which started in Libya during the NATO campaign to protect civilians.
Despite the Algerian opposition to the military campaign in Mali, the Algerian authorities allowed France to use its airspace for the military campaign against the Islamists in Mali. Libya too openly opposed any Military actions in Mali; however, reports suggest that Libyan officials have expressed their support for the French led military campaign. If Libya’s position were confirmed to be so, the Libyan Tuareg and Amazigh in the southwest would consider this position as a campaign against their rights in establishing a nation for the Tuareg population in the region. Such position could exacerbate tensions in southern Libya and widen the gap of distrust in the new Libyan authorities’ commitment to the rights of the ethnic minorities ahead of the constitution writing process.
Reports in the US media have highlighted increased interest and desire by officials in Washington DC to establish American Military presence in southern Libya to tackle the growing presence and activities of Al Qaeda in the North Africa and the Sahel region. These reports were followed by a statement by the UN mission in Libya that despite the efforts exerted by Libya to control its southern borders and establish law and order in the region, that the authorities lack the resources and vision to make any real progress in that direction.
There is currently clear lack of co-ordination of efforts and resources to restore order in southern Libya. However, Libya’s new Ministers of Interior and Defence have designed a comprehensive plan to restore control over Libya’s borders and the wider security situation, and the results for these plans are yet to materialize into any meaningful results on the ground. The co-operative plans promised visible changes in the security situation in Libya within six months, and it has only been two months until now.
The UN and EU missions in Libya have offered to support the Libyan authorities with expertise on the issue of border security in the southern region and advise on how to tackle the issue of illegal immigration and smuggling of drugs and weapons. The UN mission in Libya spent a whole week in facts finding mission southern Libya in November 2011, and assessed the demographic changes developing due to the huge influx of illegal immigration from neighbouring countries.
The authorities in Libya need to step away from the political rhetoric, which is based on political and ideological conflicts and struggle for power, and instead assess the situation realistically, and identify the root causes for deteriorating security situation in southern Libya in particular. The security situation in southern Libya requires real initiatives to tackle the wider socio-economic and development issues.
Successive governments during and after the revolution in Libya have recklessly identified and contained Libya’s security problem in the revolutionary militias and their hostile position towards all former police and army personnel. Although this characterisation is true to some extent, but it only reveals a small part of the whole picture. Therefore, any security plans as comprehensive as they might be, if they fail to look at the whole picture and address all the root causes of the problem, then these plans would fail to restore security and establish control and would only further complicate the situation. The Libyan authorities have to openly acknowledge and incorporate the external threat posed by ethnic and Jihadi groups in any strategic and immediate plans to restore security in the south.
Finally, the Libyan government is required to be more open and transparent about the security situation and ask for international help through clear and mutual agreements, instead of engaging into politically enthusiastic rhetoric about the sovereignty of Libya. As international powers such as the United States and France could act unilaterally if activities or groups in southern Libya threaten its own national security. Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya. Follow him on Twitter @Eljarh or email to: mohamed.eljarh@gmail.com