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Mar 11, 2014 | Commentary

To understand security sector reform (SSR) and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants in Libya, it’s important to think outside the sometimes constrictive box of theoretical frameworks and to instead analyse the issues from a rational and common sense perspective. Thus far, not many people have looked at SSR and DDR in such a holistic and indeed essential fashion.

One can usefully look at the Libyan situation as a series of voids either being filled or waiting to be filled, mostly by those who don’t have that responsibility. In Libya, security cannot be achieved purely by security solutions – as if it’s an end and means in and of itself. Rather, most issues can only be solved with socio-economic and political solutions.

Public trust in the government’s ability to provide public services, including security, has eroded. People have to provide their own security either by owning a weapon or creating their own links with state actors or non-state militias. After two years of unreliable electricity services, many now own private generators. Owing to recent water cuts, those who are able have invested in the construction of wells to provide their own water. The state of healthcare in Libya has also meant that most citizens seek treatment abroad, in countries like Tunisia. More and more people are also turning to satellite internet connections rather than relying on state-owned providers, due to the abysmal quality of internet services.

These examples (and there are many others) offer an indication of a government that is effectively drowning. With the budget pressures created by the oil and gas infrastructure takeovers, some even suggest the government is on the brink of either collapse or complete inertia. The Libyan people have displayed a penchant for finding ways of filling government voids, but this can have destructive consequences over the long term; for example, the continuing role of non-state actors providing security in certain regions not only reduces local trust in the government but increases trust and reliance in the non-state group, which later presents a significant challenge to the state.

We have identified four immediate national security priorities, intended to rescue Libya from different types of crises: (1) protection of territorial integrity; (2) protection of socio-economic stability; (3) protection of basic services and critical infrastructure; and (4) protection of civilians and civilian institutions.

State, Quasi-State and Non-State Actors

I agree in principle with the Small Arms Survey’s definitions of state, quasi-state, and non-state actors. State actors include the formal security apparatus, such as the National Armed Forces, Police and Intelligence services – all of which operate at a fraction of their previous capacity.

Quasi-state actors include revolutionary brigades, both regulated and unregulated. These brigades formed organically during the 2011 revolution and enjoy strong community linkages, local support, combat and weapons experience, and direct links and support from local civilian and military institutions, such as local military councils. Also included in this category are the post-revolutionary brigades formed mainly after the liberation of the capital on August 20th, 2011, which were meant to fill a security vacuum left by the collapse of the formal security services and to augment the revolutionary brigades.

Non-state actors include militias and indeed any groups that aren’t covered in the previous categories, including armed criminal groups and ideologically orientated armed groups and extremists. These groups pose a significant threat to the state, as the state and quasi-state actors don’t have the necessary capacity to monitor and eliminate the threat posed by these groups.

Many groups have tried to organize these brigades under various banners, organizations, and unions in the post-revolution period. The most high-profile of these groups are the Supreme Security Committee under the Ministry of Interior, and the Libya Shield under the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Importantly, although these forces receive salaries from formal agencies or ministries, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are under their complete control, can be completely accounted for, or follow direct orders from officials.

Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration

Since 2011, the Libyan authorities have not demonstrated any tangible vision on DDR. The steps taken by the agencies responsible for the process have proven largely ineffective, ill-designed, and disorganized. DDR activities over the past two years could even end up having a destructive impact over the long-term, contributing to the retrenchment of key stakeholders and the fragmentation of the security apparatus, both state and quasi-state.

Current thinking on dealing with militias is split into several groups. Some suggest that militias represent the only hope of providing security for the next few years, until the formal security services are up and running. Others argue that disarmament is the first step to long-term stability. Finally, there are those who contend that the poor general level of security will dissuade ex-combatants from disarming.

International efforts to engage in and support DDR activities elsewhere have historically proven ineffective – and there is no expectation that the Libyan case will be anything different. Current initiatives in Libya reverse the DDR sequencing, whereby a combatant is reintegrated into civilian life or integrated into security services prior to being formally disarmed and demobilized.

Explaining the Lack of Impact of DDR Initiatives

One of the reasons for the lack of impact of DDR initiatives, aside from the fact that rampant insecurity has increased the motivation to be armed, is that institutions (public or private) were incapable of absorbing or managing reintegrated combatants. For example, there’s a weak and distorted private sector monopolized and oligopolized by state institutions, and only represents 4% of total employment in any event, standing beside an inefficient and distorted public sector, including its security and non-security institutions.

The terrible administrative and human resource management capability of the state security apparatus plays a significant role in its inability to absorb and effectively manage state and quasi-state forces. In most cases, the state lacks any meaningful capacity to employ existing security forces and combatants (primarily youth) in ’productive’ functions. Even if these actors are demobilized and disarmed, the lack of employment opportunities in the formal economy will foster new forms of discontent, frustration, and desperation. It was these conditions that built up over a number of years and led to the 2011 revolution.

The message the state is sending in reference to the DDR schemes is that Libyan youth should give up their guns and become tools for the old generation, effectively losing their only bargaining power vis-à-vis the new political order. In Libya today, rather than only a tool to inflict harm, weapons also represent a means for status and bargaining. In essence, if they were to agree, the state security services would simply take control and enforce the rule of law coercively, without the incentives to provide real reform or guarantees that would limit its power and create the type of security sector and government that Libyans had initially fought for in the revolution. With the ’real’ bargaining power lost, this would ultimately lead to unrest, rearmament, and remobilisation, as well as retrenchment due to a complete loss of trust in the government. This would be a much more dangerous situation than what is currently faced in Libya.

There are more political than security motivations that contribute to the continuing existence of armed groups in Libya. The nature of the armed struggle has created ‘new men’ who are no longer willing to be passive and instead seek further empowerment. This is especially evident in the politicized brigades, like the QaaQaa brigade, and the militarised brigades in Misrata and Zintan.

Forging a New Social Contract

The foundation for many of these distortions, as well as what is called the Libyan mentality – manifesting itself in the country’s distorted institutions and a general sense of entitlement to the country’s wealth and motivation to privatise the benefit from public functions to personal and family networks – can be traced to the hidden implicit social contract between ruler and ruled; namely, a stable form of patronage described as the resource curse.

Specifically, massive amounts of oil money flowing to the central government has perverted the proper social, economic, and political incentives required to promote and develop the institutions of a modern state, in both public and private sectors. It also creates altogether new incentives for a relationship between the economic and the political agencies of Libya.  Entrapment (dependency) on this resource then creates an embedded structural imbalance, with the state as the largest provider of wealth and the Libyan people as dependents.

In modern productive economies, the state’s capacity to extract resources from the produce of its people led to two complementary developments: (1) the birth of regulatory institutions, including fiscal, legal, information collecting, and processing mechanisms, and (2) democracy, owing to the demand for representation in return for taxation. In Libya, this never happened; the wealth is monopolized by the state and does not need to be extracted from its people and their economic productivity. It is this structural imbalance that allows these serious economic, social, and political distortions to take place.

If we want a new paradigm in Libya, then real employment born by proper political and economic incentives must become the backbone of the new economy and the lifeblood of reconstructed public, private, and civil society institutions. Only in this way can a new social contract be formed, leading to complete structural and economic transformation. Such a contract should in turn be underpinned by transitory management and operational structures, which will oversee the winding down of the old system, transfer of all usable products and assets, and management of the subsequent political and economic restructuring.

The Way Forward

The short-term response should be an immediate and sustained effort to improve governance. There are many ways of meeting this objective. For instance, there have been a series of conferences, seminars, and training programs on SSR conducted by the Libyan government and the international community – the most high profile of which were the London and Paris meetings, which suggested new mechanisms of managing national security sector priorities. The creation of rational, collective, and inclusive decision-making and policy development tools, the focus on service delivery, and the administrative, financial, legal, and human resource support to these functions are all absolutely essential to a functional government.

The concepts of improving inter- and intra-ministerial coordination and integration of government activities on all issues, including national security, is absolutely crucial. The absence of these tools has created many of the failures we are currently seeing. It also makes the Libyan government incapable of completing even the simplest objectives, to say nothing of required long-term planning.


Abdul Rahman AlAgeli is a  security file coordinator in the Office of the Libyan Prime Minister and Rapporteur of the Supreme Committee on Border Affairs. He is also a founder of the Libyan Youth Forum, a non-political organization focused on youth development and empowerment. For more insights, you can follow him on twitter: @AbdulRahmanLYF