Why can’t we all be friends?
The very large majority of the Libyans who we spoke to last week all seemed eager to use their newfound voices to air concerns, thoughts and ideas for the future, and rightfully so. It almost seemed like they themselves were overwhelmed by their ability for freedom of speech; having not enjoyed such a right for 42 years, I can imagine a lot must have built up.
This leaves them with a particularly complicated situation. Who to listen to first? And more importantly, what to do about it all? There’s only 6 million people living in Libya, but considering the awful situation in which they have been living, there are now a lot of grievances to deal with.
We talked to around 50 people while we were in Tripoli, Misrata, and Zawia, and (as I mentioned in my last blog) we made an effort to talk to not just budding transparency activists or founders of newly established media, and members of the NTC, but also members of the public- taxi drivers, hotel staff, people who had lived through it all- and, crucially, people working in the oil sector.
Given the huge variety in social and economic status, as well as in the levels of education amongst those we spoke to, I was expecting to hear an equally varied range of comments and suggestions on what could be done to improve the way the oil sector was run.
I was wrong; there was one crystal-clear suggestion that ran through almost every single conversation that we had while we were in Libya.
“We want no more corruption, and we want things to be transparent from now on.” said the hotel staff, the 25 year old girl who had lost her best friend in fighting in Misrata, the refinery superintendent, the advisor to the NTC, the head of HR in a state-owned oil company, and the members of civil society, to name a few.
Obviously, this is good news. It shows that even from the briefest of cross-sections of Libyan society, there is public will for a transparency movement to prevent corruption. But another point was also clear; they weren’t communicating with each other. Those who had worked in the oil sector for decades had no idea that there were new transparency organisations in Libya or civil society organisations (unless they themselves had founded them), and equally, the transparency organisations had had no contact with oil sector workers.
This seems to be counter-productive. Their respective areas of knowledge couldn’t be more complimentary; almost all of the oil sector workers that we spoke to had ideas for how the industry should be run, as you would expect- it’s their industry, and they’re the ones that kept it going through years of terrible governance. Equally, the transparency activists have access to advice from international organisations who can advise them on international best practice, as well as the ear of the government.
The oil sector, and those who work in it, seems to be regarded with a sort of misguided distrust by those outside the sector. But that, like everything in Libya right now, can change. One phrase that stuck in my head that Johnny said during our various meetings was “Treat them as part of the family, and they’ll become part of the family.”
The transparency movement in Libya should include, not ignore, those working in the oil sector. Both groups have the same aims- a non-corrupt, transparent oil sector- and both groups have areas of expertise that would be invaluable to progressing the movement further. And what’s more, so many of the people within the oil sector that we spoke to were so eager to be involved. They have suffered just as much as the rest of Libya due to bad governance in the sector, from low salaries to bad working environments. Everyone wants the same thing; they just need to be given the opportunity to be involved.