Henry Smith, Former Director of Saferworld, presents six lessons we can take from the inadequate international support that powered the current post-Gadhafi Libyan situation:
Lesson 1: Any measures taken to form some kind of settlement should be recognized as a small step towards peace, not a final solution. The possibility of a power-sharing and peaceful solution between the government and military power in Libya must be met with cautionary tales of past efforts to stabilize the region. The implementation of an interim government in 2011 sent a signal to both internal and external actors that a legitimate government had been set up and a settlement had been agreed upon when it had not. The hint of any settlement was hastily deemed an overarching solution, and the resulting domestic and international pressures led any and all attempts to create peace and stability to fall apart.
Lesson 2: Prioritize long-term political dialogue, reconciliation, and negotiation over short-term state building. Public pressure and support is necessary in establishing the legitimacy of committed actors who will surely complete challenging and crucial tasks. A political settlement offers a foundation that is more sustainable than short-term efforts.
Lesson 3: Do not forget to integrate the people of the nation with the political process. It allows them to hold their policy makers accountable. Effective grassroots mobilization includes the voices of youth, women, and other marginalized groups. These people can serve as active actors in positive reconciliatory processes for a new system of government. The Libyan government failed to educate or include their people of their form of government after 2011, and it led to the Libyan people feeling disconnected from an elite class that was perceived to have made up their government.
Lesson 4: Those involved in a settlement must have a role in post-war international support—regionally and UN mandated. Engagement from an international coalition, which included the U.S. and the U.K., was set up to oust Gadhafi, and following his fall, focused only on short-term goals, as opposed to long-term peacebuilding and stabilization. The lack of U.S. engagement has brought forth a newly found effort by Egypt, which will likely bring about new approaches to a settlement. Additionally, an official UN mission could solidify an effective transition of government.
Lesson 5: lasting stability can only be encouraged, and certainly not rushed. Strategic goals can only be developed gradually, and while short-term goals are important, they are simply less effective.
Lesson 6: Armed groups must first be seen as legitimate political actors who need to be transitioned away from violence, and second, be recognized in settlement reconciliation and state-building efforts because they are already accepted as an integral part of Libyan power structures and society. Efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate (DDR) armed groups have failed in the past. They label these groups as “outsiders” and hold them to international scrutiny, when they have often rallied public support for serving as a form of protection for communities and governments.
Overall, a successful transition of government in Libya requires a multitude of forces: greater dialogue for public ownership, knowledge of the difficulty of politics, patience, consideration of policy-making beyond the use policy-makers, the possibility of different outcomes, and transitioning armed actors into nonviolent actors. Success in Libya greatly depends on external support and learning from the mistakes of short-term thinking.
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