Youth vs Experience in Libya- we fought the war, now you rule the country?
Yesterday was the last day of the British Council led “Paving the Future Youth Forum”, which has involved 100 incredibly smart young Libyans, and around 15 more from around the MENA region, and provided me with a great reason to come back here, as a facilitator on the journalism corner. As my last trip here in December 2011 was also for a workshop type event, “Libya’s Oil and Finance Future”, I’ve found it hard not to compare the two.
The participants at each workshop were very different; the December event involved people already interested in oil and transparency, from oil companies, relevant ministries of the interim government, media outlets looking to cover the subject, and members of civil society. Participants at the current event were chosen with very different criteria in mind; aged between 18-27 years old, and having achieved something or shown potential during the last year of revolution in the country.
Stories from people I’ve met here have been overwhelming; a young woman who appeared as a presenter on a TV show during the revolution and received so many death threats she had to flee the country; a girl of 18 whose teacher brought in Gaddafi forces into their classroom to threaten to rape and kill them if they carried on this ‘rubbish’ during the early days of the revolution; a young man who flew out of the country twice during the war to fight his way back in and, because a sniper was the first weapon he found, became a sniper throughout the war until September, to name just a few.
But while the overall mood at the December conference, with its older, more experienced crowd, was on the whole fairly pessimistic, the atmosphere here has been utterly electric. Optimism and hope for the future can be seen in everything that is said and all of the work that has been produced, including songs, posters, articles, and videos.
Speaking to the participants at the first day of this week’s workshop, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, former acting Prime Minister of Libya during the interim period, said: “Frankly speaking, we can split Libya up into two generations. My generation- the generation that failed, and your generation; the generation of victory.”
He recognised, as most do, that the Libyan revolution was sparked and carried out by the younger generation. I would guess that a large proportion of the young men here fought in the war, and I’m sure that everyone here knows multiple people who died for the cause. As a result, many of the young people here feel like they deserve to have a say in what happens next.
But when does, or should, being young, naïve and enthusiastic, give way to older, more experienced people? Libyan youth played a huge, deciding part in overthrowing Gaddafi, but now, it seems, it’s time for them to give way to the ‘grown ups’.
Those who have already learned how to play the game- educated expats who have been professors of political science, or economics, or similar, are now taking over the driving seat. Is this necessary? In a way, I think it is. Being young and idealistic is great, but it doesn’t bring much practical experience of coming up with a strong constitution for a newly rebuilt country.
However, the older generation here in Libya have, according to some people, let the country down. I spoke to someone today who had concrete evidence that members of the NTC practised nepotism and favouritism in a startlingly obvious way. Is this because they are used to that kind of behaviour, having lived all of their adult life in a corrupt, autocratic society over the past 42 years?
Because if so, then maybe the young people do need to step in, and show them how it’s done. Thanks to the internet, the younger generation of the 21st century have been increasingly exposed to the outside world, and this has been something that contrasts greatly with the isolation that previous generations experienced thanks to Gaddafi’s policies. Now, it’s so easy for them to communicate with other cultures and countries that comparisons between life in Libya and life in other countries are inevitable, and people here have higher expectations as a result.
I was speaking to one of the international experts earlier about this, and she mentioned an interesting example of a situation which had arisen in Benghazi- a democratic union, established by older people, which had elected a 25 year old as the union leader, and decided that the leadership should be decided by youth but with older people taking a back seat and providing guidance and advice when asked.
This situation seems like a great example of how youth and experience can complement each other in a healthy, positive and helpful way. With the project ideas that arose from the Paving the Future forum, it seems like youth empowerment at this crucial time is a hot topic which will, hopefully, result in more similar projects springing up.