TRIPOLI: A decade after Libya descended into chaos, a host of countries are eyeing potential multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects in the oil-rich nation if stability is assured. Economist Kamal Mansouri expects Libya's reconstruction drive to be one of the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa. He estimates "more than 100 billion dollars" are needed to rebuild Libya, which has been gripped by violence and political turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a 2011 uprising. Former colonial power Italy, neighboring Egypt and Turkey are tipped to be awarded the lion's share of reconstruction deals.
In the capital Tripoli, dozens of rusted cranes and unfinished buildings dot the seafront, testimony to hundreds of abandoned projects worth billions of dollars launched between 2000 and 2010. After Gaddafi's overthrow, Libya fell under the control of a complex, ever-shifting patchwork of militias and foreign mercenaries backing rival administrations. While Turkey has supported the Tripoli government, eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, who battled but failed to seize the capital, has had the backing of Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
But a UN-backed ceasefire was agreed last October, paving the way for the establishment in March of an interim administration. The new government led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah is tasked with organizing presidential and parliamentary elections in December if a legal framework is agreed on time.
Courted by business teams
The new administration has been courted by Western and regional leaders who have visited Libya with large business delegations in tow. Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was accompanied by the chief of Italian energy giant ENI. In May, Dbeibah, an engineer and businessman, visited Rome and agreed with his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi to expand collaboration on energy projects.
Italy aims to defend its commercial interests in the nation with Africa's largest oil reserves, an energy sector where Eni has been the leading foreign player since 1959. The firm reportedly proposes building a photovoltaic solar plant in southern Libya. In June, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also visited with a business team, while Dbeibah has travelled to Paris.
As Dbeibah's administration takes part in several business forums, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria are also in the running for lucrative contracts. A delegation from Russia's energy group Tatneft visited Tripoli in June to study oil exploration projects.
Questions over funding, stability
"Libya hasn't built a thing in 10 years," said Global Initiative senior fellow and Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui. "It's a rich country which hasn't maintained its infrastructure." A decade of violence has ravaged its airports, roads and the electricity network. While there is no shortage of major projects and international suitors, questions remain over funding and whether instability will return.
Divisions have devastated Libya's economy and complicated management of its oil revenues, weakening its foreign currency reserves. On the political and economic fronts, a 2021 budget has yet to be approved and UN-led efforts to organize elections appear to be floundering. - AFP