Opportunities and risks in Libya

The quick trip by the Prime Minister and two ministers to Tripoli and Misurata over the past days has been duly reported in the media. However, no amount of wall-to-wall coverage can relay the huge respect Malta has come to enjoy in today’s Libya especially in Misurata.

On our part maybe we may not have made much about it, but when the situation in Misurata was one step away from total annihilation, the city (the third city in Libya) was only kept alive and could fight back against incredible odds by the help it received from small fishing boats from Malta.

The people in Misurata stopped any Maltese member of the delegation and thanked them in the most effusive way: “Malta saved Misurata”, they told them over and over again.

This also explains the huge respect that the government of Malta has enjoyed over the past months with the National Transitional Council and the visit paid to Malta by the top two persons in the NTC and the invitation for this visit of the past days.

It is clear that this tidal wave of appreciation of Malta’s contribution is the best visiting card that any Maltese business can have. It is also clear that the opportunities for business in the enormous task of reconstruction of Libya are out of this world.

Then there are connection needs that are urgent and widespread. Ports, such as that of Misurata, need reconstruction. Actually, they have been lacking in renovation for quite a number of years. That goes too for airports. And with Air Malta now flying to Tripoli and in the future to Benghazi as well, there is huge scope for Maltese entrepreneurs.

Even here, we may be missing the wood for the trees. Libya needs reconstruction practically from the ground up. It is not just the reconstruction of roads, airports and so on that is needed. There are huge needs of basic education, basic health care and basic civil society.

At the same time, it cannot be emphasised enough that the situation in Libya is far from stable and Maltese persons who venture out on the strength of Malta’s particular favourable perception in these post-insurrection days could find themselves in real and unexpected danger.

Perhaps the best way our country can help Libya is by helping it grow those legal instruments and institutions that are the mark of an ordered society and to help draw it into the network of states where the rule of law is supreme, where there is a strict separation between legislative powers and executive powers.

The Libyan people must remain, of course, supremely sovereign in the choices that face the country and must take the appropriate decisions in due time. But they must also come to understand that they can never hope to attract business and investment unless investors are sure they can enjoy rights to their investment at all time and that this is not subject to personal whims and foibles.

Similarly, in today’s networked world, where telephony and internet connectivity are all important, connectivity must be ensured at all times and in all modes.

Basically, thus, a truly democratic society can only be built on such pillars that by the consent of the people involved can never come missing.

All this may be a far cry from what Maltese businesses and entrepreneurs think about when they consider the opportunities in Libya. They especially must also come to understand that the methods of the recent past how to do business and get ahead in Libya are now completely obsolete. A businessman or an entrepreneur who tries to do business with the methods of the past will become a marked man and could find himself in instant danger.

It is also not simply a question of swapping one ruler for another, as many tend to think. What happened in Libya in the past months was an enormous revolution, conducted at huge cost by a people with practically nothing in its hands except bare courage. Those who want to do business in Libya must be sympathetic to the cause of the revolution and must continually bear in mind the terrible cost the people suffered, not just these 42 years but especially over the past year.

In other words, it is not simply a case of swapping the green flag with the black, green and red flag.

Ali El-Ehmer

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