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Libya’s economy: Challenges and the way forward

Expert Dialogue

The Regional Program Political Dialogue South Mediterranean of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in cooperation with Stractegia organizes an expert dialogue on the current situation of Libya's economy and its challenges as well as chances for the future.

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Among Libya’s many paradoxes, there is economy. The country has important proven reserves of oil and gas, with an estimated 40 billion barrels and 53 trillion cubic feet respectively. With less than 7 million inhabitants, Libya is in a capacity to guarantee its population very decent economic prospects.

Nonetheless, serious obstacles keep standing in the way of Libya’s development. The arbitrary economic policies that prevailed under former leader Moammar Gaddafi are part of the explanation. Under his rule, Libya did make important oil profits, but they ended up in the hands of the few – the Libyan elite.

Besides, the state of Libyan infrastructures remains poor. Gaddafi’s policies, a decades-long economic embargo, a limited culture of management, are part of the reasons that kept Libya’s energy sector underexploited.

Closer to us, the post-2011 context and the instability it generated, war and its natural consequences on oil and gas management and exploitation, and the blockage of oil production and exportation, also explain why Libya remained underdeveloped. Many international companies are willing to exploit Libya’s market opportunities, but so far, they have been reluctant to do so because of the war situation, the instability and/or the uncertainties that are generated by the behavior of armed groups and their control of key energy fields.

Libya is also stuck at the institutional level. The Libyan Central Bank (LCB) is divided between two branches; the Tripoli-based National Oil Company is also challenged by the east; the Libyan Investment Authority is barely able to generate any benefit or positive outcome from Libya’s inner and foreign assets… as a result, Libyan oil companies end up negotiating prospects for the future, but without being able to build strong prospects on the ground. The heads of some energy companies end up having more capacities than official institutions have, but they have not been able to stir up the country either.

The ongoing political process that aims at solving the situation seems to be engaged on a positive track, but meanwhile, Libyans are suffering money and fuel restrictions, electricity cuts, lack of access to their basic needs… they also fall short of benefitting from efficient services, with the bad financial situation hitting hard municipalities and their capacity to deliver.

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Malte Gasseling