As the State Collapses, Rival Blocks Agree to Talks in Geneva
On Saturday 10 January, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya finally announced that a second round of UN-sponsored negotiations between rival Libyan blocks would be held in Geneva during the week commencing on Monday 12 January. This development comes after a first round of inconclusive, if not abortive, talks held in September in the city of Ghat and after weeks and weeks of postponements and delays caused by both sides’ inability to compromise over any talks-related issue (from the negotiations’ location up until who participants should be).
The achievement of this was possible thanks to Bernardino Leon’s efforts who, on Friday alone, met once again in both Tobruk and Tripoli with all political and military stakeholders, including an unprecedented meeting with Operation Dignity’s Chief Khalifa Haftar. The agenda agreed upon for the talks is very ambitious. If anything out of discussions regarding the formation of a national salvation government, inclusive of all sides, and the implementation of ceasefire agreements turns out to be successful, Libyans could and should finally feel optimistic again.
On the other hand, a failure of this round of talks would spell disaster for Libya. As stated by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini on Saturday, these talks represent probably Libya’s last chance to avoid the complete collapse of its state. Despite optimistic plans being devised by the Tripoli and Tobruk governments, especially at the military level, a very interesting article by Ulf Laessing for Reuters paints a dramatic, if not terrifying, picture of the state of the economy and finances in Libya:
Neither side — the internationally-recognized government in the east and a rival outfit which seized Tripoli in summer — has prepared a budget for 2015. Both seem determined to defeat each other on the battlefield, with oil facilities, ports and steel plants their targets.
The turmoil has cut the value of Libya’s currency by 30 percent against the dollar on the black market as oil exports are the only means of funding the budget and an annual import bill of $30 billion. An employee at a state bank in Tripoli said the central bank had stopped making dollars available months ago.
Worse is to come. Husni Bey, head of one of Libya’s biggest private firms, said the central bank might have to devalue the dinar by 50 percent to offset the loss of oil revenues and pay public salaries. Libya had a budget deficit of around $15 billion at the end of November, the bank said, before oil output fell by half.
The picture described above is so bleak that analysts focusing on Libya are starting to hope that, despite the rhetoric still being employed by both sides on the public stage, rival blocks will finally come to their senses and take Geneva’s talks as an opportunity to defuse the crisis. If they won’t do it, future generations of Libyans should held them accountable for what could go down in history as the de facto suicide of a nation.
Lastly, another question worth asking at this stage is what, if any, this week’s events in Paris will have over France’ stances towards Libya. Already last week, President Hollande and Defence Minister Le Drian had articulated through their statements very strong positions, confirming France’s great concern at the growing levels of lawlessness allowing for large swaths of Libya’s territory to be used as a terrorists’ safe haven. Although the French public’s response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo has been, so far, mostly orderly and no calls for military actions overseas have been made, both Libyan blocks should keep in mind the growing odds that European countries will finally pull the trigger and push for a UN-backed intervention under the guise of a peacekeeping mission if no progress are made.