Post-Gadhafi Libya is brimming with promise, but also with pitfalls. With a substantial supply of low-sulfur oil, proximity to Europe, and recent strong economic growth, the country should be poised to move forward. The downside risks include tribal conflicts, a very young population, and regional divisions.
A number of commentators have recently opined on what needs to be done for Libya to move forward, including Steve Clemons of the Atlantic and Tim Lister of CNN. Here is my list of priorities, based on work on fragile states and emerging democracies.
(1) Security is number one. That not only means providing security for government installations, banks, and other critical sites, but also security for individuals against crime and retribution. The remnants of Gadhafi’s army and security forces, excluding only officers who ordered their troops to kill Libyans, should be offered places in a new Libyan military and police. But that should be contingent on their taking at least 6 months of training in democratic policing (See my essay in the Journal of Democracy, “The Ballot or the Badge” on the importance of this). In the interim the UN should offer its services for police training and temporary staffing support to help the transitional government maintain order and security. A rebel army is NOT a suitable force for policing civilians, and such a force needs to be established as soon as possible.
(2) Federalism must be part of the plan. The Berbers of the south and west, who played a key role in defeating Gadhafi’s forces, want their language and culture to be recognized as primary in their region. The Eastern region too does not want to be dominated from Tripoli, and tribes expect a certain degree of self-government. So building a new centralized regime in Tripoli should not be a goal. Rather, a federal system that allows a great deal of regional self-determination will be necessary to ensure broad cooperation and participation in a new Libyan regime.
(3) Elections should not be rushed. In order for elections to be meaningful and contribute toward a stable new regime, those elections must be legitimate, and their results accepted by all major parties. However, achieving the agreements and the capacity to hold elections whose results will be accepted by all takes time. Libya’s interim government should allow 12-15 months before national elections are held.
(4) Jobs, jobs, jobs. Like the rest of North Africa, Libya has a large number of young men without sufficient employment. Putting people to work and restoring the economy will be vital to retaining support for the ITC and the transition to democracy. Infrastructure spending, government positions, and incentives for foreign investment all need to be cranked up to keep young men gainfully employed.
If these steps are taken Libya should make great strides towards democracy. It will not be a perfect democracy — no country is. But if Libya can do as well as Malaysia or Georgia it will be doing alright, and its people will enjoy their hard-won freedom.