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The UK’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, wrote an article for The Telegraph on 25 August, titled Libya can be great again if the world unites to glue the country back together, in which he outlines the role of the UK in helping rebuild Libya.

While not shying away from the darker aspects of international intervention in Lybia, which was at least partially responsible for the problems Lybia faces with regard to human trafficking, Johnson argues that, all things considered, UK involvement was positive:

Most sensible Libyans are profoundly glad they are no longer tyrannised by a man who tortured, jailed and murdered thousands. Many young Libyans are still grateful for the role the UK played in his removal. And they can also see that the UK is there for them today, committed to the long-term success of the country and determined to help a new democracy to be born.

Johnson describes the problems: two central banks, two rival parliaments, three prime ministers and up to four governments. But what makes the situation in Libya worse from that in Belgium, is the fact that there are three guns for every human being, “but no single source of law or authority, let alone power.” Indeed,

umpteen militias vying with the Libyan National Army for control of the vast and lawless beige spaces on the map. And in those lawless territories we are seeing the breeding grounds of terrorists and people smugglers – the criminals whose activities have had such an impact on western Europe.

Where Johnson mentions the concrete actions undertaken by the British government, the article gives a coherent and, to a certain extent, even hopeful idea of the small steps undertaken to make Lybia great again:

We are teaching them the law of the sea. We are teaching them English and how to communicate with a terrified migrant from Nigeria. In the past few days the UK government has pledged funding for de-mining operations and new clinics, and rebuilding critical infrastructure in Sirte, from where Isil has finally been driven. (…) I have seen much of this in action. Though some of it makes one tingle with pride, we all know the reality: that these measures are merely sticking plasters over the great gaping wound in Libyan society.

Johnson’s last observation is certainly on the mark. It is hard to see how a society so divided as he earlier explained, can be healed, let alone be healed quickly, without falling apart and while moving towards a democracy. It is, perhaps understandably, at this point that his argument breaks down. With or without a political solution, Libya will be, for the foreseeable future, one of the countries that are in the front line of the struggle against illegal migration and terror. Whatever signs of hope Johnson sees in a British minister being able to visit Misrata, the task he proposes seems larger than he suggests.

A deal is to be done, he writes: to glue back the East and the West, uniting the diverse factions in political life and for all Libya to put aside their differences and work with the new UN special representative Ghassan Salamé. But this is more easily said than done. Johnson’s attitude, that all is needed is “a bit of maturity and patience by the Libyans and, above all, a joint approach from the international community,” seems highly impractical.

His final musings, about the ruins of Leptis Magna, itself abandoned around 647, are just as impractical and leave the reader with a bitter aftertaste, as the impression that something essential is missed lingers.

And just to say thanks for destroying and subsequently at least making an effort to rebuild their country, the Libyan Army band played Boris their own rendition of God save the Queen.