Libya’s rational choice on transition

October 6, 2011

By Belachew Mekuria Fikre, Addis Ababa University Centre for Human Rights

The tasks ahead, apart from sealing the protracted success stories by apprehending Gaddafi who symbolises tyranny in Libya and the region, relates to state building, disarmament and inter-communal reconciliatory dialogues. The last days of Gaddafi’s rule amassed the nation with weapons so that supporters could hunt down the ‘rats’ and the ‘infidels’, who are, for the majority of the Libyan public, the liberators. The dictator also had made last minute attempts to instil hatred, animosity and tribal differences among the community.

On the other hand, the liberation force is staffed with voluntary youth soldiers without any prior experience and training on combat. Accordingly, it is all the more challenging to disarm and demobilise this group of fighters by the NTC.

Apprehending Gaddafi and Co

This task is of significant importance for Libya and Libyans so that the former leader is made to account personally for all his misdeeds. As far as the choice of forum is concerned, as we have argued earlier on this blog, and as expressly claimed by the NTC, the Libyan judiciary must be put on top of the matter. In the undesirable case of failure to secure his presence before justice, the chances would be to watch Gaddafi repeat the history of Siad Barre of Somalia (who in 1995 died in Nigeria while in exile since 1991), Idi Amin Dada (the Ugandan dictator who died in 2003 in Saudi Arabia while in exile) and also the living Ethiopia’s Mengistu who still remains a fugitive from the law being hosted by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. If it again happens with regard to Muammar Gaddafi, the wheels of justice rendition would significantly be upset.

What makes Gaddafi’s case special is the presence of his family collaborators, who are equally responsible for the wrongs that have been and are being committed against the Libyan public. The international community, the regional actors like the African Union and individual nations are also in a state of constant dilemma to grant or hold back recognition to the NTC. Particularly the AU’s position is far from simple because of the ‘unconstitutionality’ issue relating to the process of change of government. And the Union’s Constitutive Act expressly condemns such change in government under Article 4(p) by declaring as one of its principles, ‘condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of government.’ Thus, as a corollary to this consideration, it is less clear what its position would look like on the pursuit and consequent apprehension of Gaddafi at the end of the day.

DDR in Libya

It is first of all crucial to understand what we mean by ‘Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration.’ The 2000 Report by the UN secretary General to the Security Council on ‘the role of the UN peacekeeping in DDR’ elaborated on these three terminologies as follows:

a)      Disarmament is the collection of small arms and light and heavy weapons within a conflict zone. It frequently entails the assembly and cantonment of combatants; it should also comprise the development of arms management programmes, including their safe storage and their final disposition, which may entail their destruction.

b)     Demobilisation refers to the process by which parties to a conflict begin to disband their military structures and combatants begin the transformation into civilian life. It generally entails registration of former combatants; some kind of assistance to enable them to meet their immediate basic needs; discharge, and transportation to their home communities. It may be followed by recruitment into a new, unified military force.

c)      Reintegration refers to the process which allows ex-combatants and their families to adapt, economically and socially, to productive civilian life. It generally entails the provision of a package of cash or in-kind compensation, training, and job- and income-generating projects. These measures frequently depend for their effectiveness upon other, broader undertakings, such as assistance to returning refugees and internally displaced persons; economic development at the community and national level; infrastructure rehabilitation; truth and reconciliation efforts; and institutional reform. Enhancement of local capacity is often crucial for the long-term success of reintegration.

These processes demand both time and resource investment that may eventually make the involvement of the international community crucially important. The Libyan people could benefit from both financial and technical support without however any temptation to dictate the process.

The challenge, as mentioned above, would be handling the Disarmament process as there exist a substantial number of people who are heavily armed with light weapons. As it was Gaddafi’s and his foes’ plan to instigate inter-communal violence, individuals have been given access to possess weapons to be used against each other. Accordingly, there need to be an inter-linked approach of both the DDR and the reconciliation process which then brings us to the discussion of the third important task that lie ahead of the NTC.

Inter-communal reconciliation

One of the largest countries in Africa with a total population of about 6.7 million, Libya has been under tyrannical rule since 1969 and now it is seeing the lights of change, hopefully to the better. While the changes are underway, the age-old animosity instilled among the public requires some form of enduring processes of reconciliation. A Commission of the likes of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission or by any other name could do just fine owning that process. Apart from this specific institutional design, the constitution crafting process could also be used as platform for reconciliatory dialogues, democratic change and addressing grievances with regard to resource sharing among the various parts of Libya and Libyans. This new constitution making could therefore provide an opportunity, if seized, which reinstitutes inter-communal trust, sense of equality and democratic governance.


As we witness a new dawn for democratic changes in the Arab world, these are inevitably some of the critical challenges that those who manage those changes would be facing. How they handle those challenges, however, would make an important distinction amongst themselves, particularly in the extent to which they embrace the true demands of the leaders of the uprisings and the revolution.

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