Libya’s election, the long path to peace in the Maghreb, by Osmund Agbo


Libya’s election, the long path to peace in the Maghreb, by Osmund Agbo

In case you haven’t noticed, modern warfare has become everything other than what it appears to be. The war in Syria is no more about Assad’s regime against pro-democracy activists of the Arab Spring era but a fight between Russian/Iranian mercenaries on one hand and Saudi Arabia/Turkey on the other hand.

The post-Gaddafi Libyan crisis saw the emergence of two opposing models of power resulting in the formation of two rival governments.

One is based on Political Islam and led by Fayez Al-Serraj, the Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital city of Tripoli.

This camp is supported by Turkey and Qatar. Then, there is the Militarist nationalism camp fighting against the rise of Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam.

This is represented by General Khalifa Haftar who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) based in the Eastern city of Tobruk. The LNA has the backing of Egypt, UAE, Russia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Libyan crisis today is looking more like a Middle Eastern proxy war playing out on Libyan soil. Many of the issues at stake have little to do with the wellbeing of the Libyan people but are all about the interest of these regional powers.

Despite a United Nations arms embargo for years, sophisticated weapons continued to flood Libya and into the hands of a garden variety of non-state actors. A decade of internal strife has not only impoverished this resource-rich Arabic-speaking nation but has made life a living hell for so many and destabilized an entire continent.

But today, there seems to be a ray of hope on the horizon. The current effort towards lasting peace and stability followed the signing of a ceasefire agreement on 23 October 2020 in Geneva by the warring parties and the adoption of the Libyan political roadmap in Tunis on 15 November 2020.

A decade after the death of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is set to hold multi-party elections this month for the first time in the nation’s history. Among the 98 people who registered to contest in the upcoming Presidential election including 2 women, three are considered front runners.

Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is a Libyan warlord and a veteran of many wars. He goes by the title of Field Marshal. Haftar is also an American citizen and his LNA launched an offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord in an attempt to capture Tripoli in 2019.

Haftar has since been accused in US courts of war crimes. His dual US citizenship as well as his assault on Tripoli is a source of worry to many Libyans and an appellate court in Zawiya already disqualified his candidature.

Aside from the foreign powers, his local base of support is to be found predominantly in the east and among those in favour of a secular government. It’s hard to envision peace in Libya where Haftar is not a major player.

Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Gaddafi’s sons who just this year, re-emerged out of the shadows. He was captured by rebels in 2011 shortly after his father’s death and held for years in a detention facility.

The International Criminal Court at the time, issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of murder and a Tripoli court once sentenced him to death on charges of war crimes. Eligibility concerns have been raised over his criminal conviction. Gaddafi’s core support comes from the south.

Abdulhamid Dbeibah meanwhile, is a wealthy businessman who was named prime minister in the interim Government of National Accord (GNA) on 10 March 2021 as part of the UN-led peace process.

Prior to joining politics and during the Gaddafi regime, he led Libyan state-owned Investment and Development Co. He had previously pledged not to run and his failure to step down three months before the vote does not bode well with Libyans. Majority of Dbeibah’s supporters are in the west.

Unfortunately, all the three major contenders have been accused of violating the candidate eligibility criteria and none is likely to emerge as a unifying figure. It doesn’t help also that less than a month to the elections, there is still a lot of tension between the main political parties over election laws, conditions for candidacy, and the election date. Some have even called to postpone it until a referendum on the constitution is held while others called to boycott it. But we remain hopeful that the major actors in this conflict will lay down their arms and tow the path of peace.

A successful election in Libya where the major actors respect the outcome most definitely would change the trajectory of armed conflicts causing existential crisis across Africa, most especially in the Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin.

That Africa today has become the focus of political Islam which is fueling the rise of Jihadists could be traced to a large extent with the situation in post-Gaddafi Libya.

If and when a new Libyan President eventually emerges, one of his greatest challenges would be having to contend with the issue of legitimacy. Under the prevailing situation, whoever emerges will likely face a barrage of contentious post-election litigations. Even when a win is secured in the courtroom, the question remains if such an individual would be accepted by majority of Libyans as a legitimate authority, representative of the people and not an ethnic or factional leader beholden to foreign interests.

As Emad al-Sayah, chairman of Libya’s High National Election Commission once said, Libya will “either continue on the track of democracy and peaceful devolution of power or go to square zero, where war will take place.” This north-African nation of almost seven million people, needs all the prayer and support it could get.

Osmund Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email:

Libya’s election, the long path to peace in the Maghreb, by Osmund Agbo


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