Worry over Tunisia’s long-term prospects grew this week, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced on 02 December 2013, that the country would continue to suffer from loan delays, unless it ameliorates both its budget deficit problems and its security situation. The announcement, which came in the form of a statement made by mission chief Amine Mati, also reiterated the concerns of foreign investors, noting that there remains a “wait-and-see” approach to interest in Tunisia.
The IMF has arguably exacerbated the North African nation’s Catch-22 scenario. With dwindling investments, comes a declining economy. As the economy spirals, so too do the jobs numbers. The lack of occupational opportunities, particularly those for young men, has led to a greater attraction toward extremist groups among individuals who feel marginalised and without purpose. This has led to an apparent surge in applicants interested in Ansar al Sharia, an organisation which, aside from being blamed on the 2012 attack on the US mission in Libya, has also been accused of planting hundreds of homemade explosive devices near Mount Chaambi.
This has not stopped the IMF from trying. As recently as 07 June 2013, the international organisation approved a grant of US$1.74 billion, US$150.2 million of which had already been dispersed to Tunisia that same month. The IMF even promised further instalments – security permitting – over the next two years at the enviably low interest rate of 1.08%. Two sweeten the deal, in June 2013 it announced that Tunisia would not have to start paying back the loans until 2018. So why amid this cycle of violence-turned-investor retreat, does the IMF seem so adamant about supporting Tunisia? The answer may be found within the halls of Washington, DC.
This week’s sporadic violence in Benghazi has led international investors to examine whether to place their bets on Libya due to security fears. The truth, however, is that many foreign nationals had already withdrawn their personnel following Tripoli’s mid-November militia battles. The decision to remove foreign staff is attributed to the deeply unpredictable situation that has developed in Libya. To that end, The Inkerman Group has noted the emergence of a delicate militia ecosystem, where some 1700 brigades balance out the power of their rivals, and ultimately, the power of the central authority: the administration of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and the General National Congress (GNC). This system is borne out of forty-two years of the absolute central command led by deceased dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who controlled the lives of millions of Libyans. After decades of tyrannical abuse, it is perhaps understandable that Libyans, particularly those Islamists who felt marginalised under Gaddafi, or moderates who fought against the regime in 2011, would be reluctant to step away from their comfort zones – the brigades – and hand over their weapons to the administration of PM Zeidan. Indeed, whether the Libyan leader is Zeidan or Gaddafi matters not. Centrally controlled rule is frightening for many Libyans – a sentiment perhaps most understood by residents in the East who have been calling for more autonomy.
More in-depth coverage of incidents, including security forecasts, can be found in The Libya Daily and Monthly Reports. Email Cassie.Blombaum@Inkerman.com for more details.
Their name may be synonymous with terror – particularly the embassy-attacking kind – but that has not stopped the infamous Ansar al Sharia Brigade from trying to elicit support from the public. Indeed, despite being vilified by the international media, as well as the US, Libyan and Tunisian governments, the Brigade appears to be have unleashed a new marketing campaign, one that shows the ‘softer, cuddlier’ side of the hard-line Islamist organisation. Over the past few weeks Libyans have noticed that Ansar al Sharia, a group widely suspected of orchestrating the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, has stepped up its “volunteering activities” by handing out food and other supplies in the days leading up to, and following, the Islamic holy day of Eid al Adha.
To make sure the public is aware of its good deeds, in early October 2013 Ansar al Sharia circulated videos via social media which showed its members delivering sheep, to be used for slaughter during Eid al Adha, to Cyrenaica’s underprivileged citizens. Not stopping there, images highlighting Ansar al Sharia’s recruitment efforts, which involved the extremist group offering free footballs to those who signed up for the organisation, were also recently published online. These tactics, however, are only the latest in a series of publicity stunts aimed at shoring up domestic support.
Assassinations are proving to be, yet again, among the most problematic security issues facing Libya. With at least sixteen incidents recorded in September 2013, alone, officials are struggling to come to terms with the fact that the fallout from the 2011 uprising may not be over. As can be expected, the overwhelming majority of these security setbacks take place in the East, with Benghazi often playing centre stage to targeted killings. Here, local news outlets regularly provide updates on “unidentified” armed men opening fire on seemingly unsuspecting ‘Gaddafi’-linked judges, as well as non-regime-aligned security officers, activists and journalists. Elsewhere in Libya, ‘anonymous’ individuals have also been reported planting explosive devices underneath the vehicles of anxious police officers, or targeting unwary local businessmen.
Even to the casual observer of Libyan affairs, assassinations pose a significant problem to the security of the Maghreb state. What is more difficult to assess, however, is whether the situation is becoming worse; and who, exactly, is responsible for these horrific attacks?
(Note: This blog features an interactive map which strives to present a basic picture of the DRC’s most notorious armed groups.)
To understand the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is, at first, to be reminded of the African country’s unfortunate role as a land of timeworn stereotypes. These include the usual round of Eurocentric finger wagging, where Western elites engage in heated debates regarding ‘what went wrong’ with the militia-ridden Congo ‘experiment’. Another cliché involves a deeply embarrassed Belgian leader haunted by his or her country’s historical role in present day Congolese affairs. Then, of course, there is the contentious role of the multi-national corporation, and its alleged determination to ensure that stability never comes to the DRC for fear of lost lucrative mining contracts.
In short, somewhere within this land of stereotypes there lies the truth. However, in a country where millions of civilians have suffered for decades at the hands of dictatorial regimes, rogue militias eyeing resource riches, and other internationally-backed rebellious factions, it becomes apparent that cracking the ‘Congo Code’ will not be easy. Nevertheless, a good starting point may be to look at some of the DRC’s most notorious armed rebel groups surrounding the eastern city of Goma.
In 2008, the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Russian Railways (RZD) and the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) reached a US$12 billion dollar deal to construct Libya’s first railway since the old World War II railways were shuttered in 1965. RZD’s share of the project was roughly one-third, with the task of laying 554 kilometres of track from Sirte to Benghazi. CRCC was awarded the rest of the contract to build an 800-kilometre line from Sebha to Misrata, a 352-kilometre line between al Khums and Sirte and then, in 2009, was awarded a further contract for 172 kilometres of track from Tripoli to the Tunisian border. Needless to say, following the Libyan revolution and ensuing civil war in 2011, no significant progress was made on any of these projects. After the fall of Gaddafi, Russian and Chinese firms – CPCC and RZD included – were quickly made aware that they were regarded as persona non grata by those rebel forces who took over Libya. In the hectic days that followed, and throughout the ensuing establishment of the General National Congress (GNC), one of the few things that the myriad of former rebel groups could agree on was their mutual distrust of Russia and China. The Libyan revolution also saw the stratification of society, with both ancient and fresh tribal rivalries coming to the forefront of Libyan politics. The Libyan revolution resulted in the removal of a detested despot, but also left society with deep divides. In June 2013, twenty months after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the Libyan Government held the first talks with Russian and Chinese firms to restart the stillborn railway projects. The trans-Libyan railway, which will also connect to Algeria and Tunisia, has the potential to both reconcile Libya with two of its former largest trade partners, as well as be a boon for Libyan national reconciliation.