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UN envoy to Libya is taking credit for Libya’s hard earned successes

January 31, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Former UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame in Rome, Italy on 8 August 2017 [Riccardo de Luca/Anadolu Agency]

In his last report to the UN Security Council, the United Nations’ special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, sounded both optimistic and pessimistic. He tried to paint a realistic picture of the situation in the conflict ridden oil rich country but not without a dose of exaggeration and misleading characterisation of how the country has progressed since his last report on 6 September last year. At the same time, he tried to convey a positive picture of the country while warning of the risks ahead.

While the report was, largely, fact based, it seemed to highlight what Salame likes to call successes, including measures already implemented by the Government of National Accord (GNA) which were brokered by his predecessor, Bernardino Leon in 2015, and imposed on Libya the following year.

Salame, in his report, focused on the economic measures, within larger reform programmes, aimed at bringing down prices, stabilising exchange rates and controlling inflation. The three are intertwined as without stable exchange rates neither inflation nor prices can be affected since Libya imports most of its needs paying in dollars.

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Indeed, there have been some improvements to the black market’s skyrocketing exchange rate compared to the official rate. Before the economic reform measures took effect, three months ago, the US dollar used to buy roughly ten Libyan dinars but today it fetches about half that amount. Indeed this had a positive impact on inflation and consumer prices but it is still far from stable. The price of some commodities lowered as inflation decreased, but, so far, it has failed to reflect in the price of daily foodstuff which remain beyond the reach of many Libyans.

As Salame was telling the Security Council about his mission’s recent success, major airline companies increased their ticket price by more than 50 per cent in some cases citing higher operational costs. This price hike has been met with anger and resentment from the majority of people. Libyans do not tend to travel for leisure, instead they take flights to neighbouring countries for treatment as a result of the country’s collapsing health care system. Of course Salame did not highlight this issue.

The report also pointed to the liquidity crisis which has been plaguing the country for the last three years. It claims the crisis is over and said: “In most, if not all, cities and villages, the long queues of people standing for days outside of ATMs to get a meagre fraction of their assets is now behind us.” This is simply not true!

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People, particularly outside Tripoli, still queue outside banks, however for shorter periods. Almost all ATMs, of which there are less than two dozen in the capital, are out of service and those that are operational dispense very small amounts of cash in a country where most transactions are cash based.

What really angered many Libyan social media users is Salame’s claim that security is improving around the capital when in fact, just two days before he spoke to the council, Tripoli was under siege.

Armed forces, named 7th brigade, launched their second attempt to take control of the capital. Last September the two sides were engaged in two weeks of destructive bout of violence that left dozens of civilians killed and hundreds displaced. Then Ghassan Salame stepped in and, with help of local dignitaries, agreed a ceasefire.

This time neither he nor any of his staff played a role. It was the tribal leaders of Warfella who calmed the situation. Sources close to the mediation efforts told MEMO that the leading negotiator, Sheikh Mohamed Al-Barghouti, refused to take Salame’s phone call at first, accepting only hours later.

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Salame thanked Sheikh Al-Barghouti and told him “…in a few days you achieved what we could not do in months”.

Al-Barghouti is a critic of the UN mission and believes any foreign meddling is counter-productive. After securing the ceasefire he spoke of Libyans being able to reconcile their differences without any foreign intervention.

Despite having no role in this latest mediation Salame, in his report to the Security Council, took credit for the successful peacemaking efforts. He said “We have worked closely with all parties to stop breaches of the ceasefire from going any further.”

The UN and its special envoy Ghassan Salame are not expected to succeed in solving every problem in Libya when the current political leaders are only interested in serving their own narrow interests. Salame was blunt when addressing this, accused politicians of benefitting from “a broken legal framework” and “pillaging” Libya’s great wealth.

As he put it “only Libyans themselves can plot a path out of this malaise, towards stability and prosperity” and his role will always be that of a facilitator at best.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.