Partly due to the violence of the civil war and partly due to overzealous media coverage, certain foreign staffs who have returned to Libya are currently employing hard security measures. However, this has not necessarily proven to be the best or optimal approach. The relatively positive security environment in the major cities in Libya, as well as at many of the country’s oil facilities means that in most cases a high profile approach with overt physical security is not required, and would represent a needless expense to companies operating in relatively stable environments, not to mention have a negative effect upon their perception among the local community, including potential business partners. Further, the Libyan government is keen to prevent foreign companies from providing their own physical security. As a result companies need to begin thinking beyond this approach, considering which “soft” measures would complement their hard measures provided by central security forces and local militia groups.
Along with hard and soft approaches, the term ‘holistic’ is often used by PSCs which is a meaningless buzzword unless all solution factors in all issue areas, pre-to-post-deployment, are considered as a matter of course. Training staff to raise awareness of risk-crisis planning at the front-end of the process can save both dollars and potentially lives in the long run.
Context analysis is also a key consideration as it is easier to mitigate risks when you have a proper understanding of them. If a company has considered all contingencies (as best as one can) ahead of time, then dealing with them as they occur is easier and can be modeled and prepared for ahead of time. A change of perspective from “it won’t happen to me” to “what if?” reaps benefits. This includes gaining intelligence on the major players in specific regions, cities and districts allows a company to effectively plan for potential scenarios knowing who best to contact to resolve issues as they arise. It also helps personnel on the ground contribute to mitigating risks to themselves which can provide them with a degree of confidence in their own decision making which in turn can help avert negative scenarios. Ongoing updating of on-the-ground information keeps personnel up to speed with daily events and allows them to alter procedures accordingly.
Other methods of offsetting financial risk include insurance policies to cover in-country staff and particularly contracted personnel. In Libya oil company personnel, particularly those in more remote or contested areas, led to significantly increased financial outlay for companies in repatriating personnel on an uninsured basis. Too much faith was put in the various governments, which often had little knowledge of how many foreigners were present and where – while these governments themselves were forced to hastily collate maps of facilities and locations in the south. Consequently they could do little to facilitate the evacuation process in some cases. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some hoped that the oil majors would help with evacuations of smaller contractors. Indeed, in some situations the opposite occurred when foreign workers were persuaded to prematurely return in order to provide the oil that would fuel the war effort.
Libya: still a hostile environment?
Lessons learned in Libya suggest that returning companies’ assessments of the current security environment is leading to unnecessary money being spent on close protection and/or harder security measures. While the security environment in Libya does not often require a high profile security presence, a general level of risk does exist and the situation could deteriorate in the future. This requires companies to plan for a number of responses across a range of possible scenarios, and to adapting varying security conditions to different regions.
The general lack of law enforcement throughout the country, and in particular the lack of any organized, well-trained and centrally controlled entity whose duty it is to perform this task should be of concern for those with personnel and assets in Libya. For this reason, in the event of an incident, a greater degree of responsibility lies on the shoulders of company management to ensure the safety of personnel and the satisfactory resolution of any scenario that could affect their security. Furthermore, in the absence of an overt form of central authority, the various remaining militia groups who as yet have refused to lay down their weapons or integrate into the national army and police force, have been acting in an erratic manner, conducting revenge operations against suspected former Gaddafi loyalists and detaining both local and foreign nationals they view as suspicious. Any irregularities with company paperwork or personal documentation are only likely to heighten suspicions, and can result in lengthy detentions or deportation.
Engaging with local entities in partnerships that facilitate the entry or re-entry of foreign companies into the country can only assist in logistical and legal issues relating to company registration, but can also provide a degree of protection and a safety net for in-country personnel, providing them with a local contact who can respond much more quickly to assist in any adverse scenarios.
Employing local staff or fixers can also prove vital when negotiating local laws and customs, and help to transcend the language barrier that could potentially cause a situation to escalate rapidly. One point of note is that the level of spoken English in Libya is much lower than in most of its Arab neighbors, as the previous regime was against its teaching in state schools. Although in business this is less of a problem due to the higher proportion of English speakers in the country’s major industries, everyday issues and potential misunderstandings become a lot easier to navigate if one has the support of a local Arabic speaker, who can assuage any suspicions and clear up misunderstandings.
Transport both within urban areas and in remote locations is also an area of concern. Public transport is largely non-existent in Libya, and taxis are not advised as a cost effective or entirely safe mode of transiting around major cities. Those opting to self-drive must also be aware of the risks posed by a largely unregulated roads system and the often erratic driving style of locals. In accessing remote areas, flights are often available to airstrips at major oil facilities; however, many are still to become operational following the revolution, requiring personnel to drive long distances through less stable regions, where, again, the overt presence of centrally controlled law enforcement is minimal and the poor quality of roads can pose a more immediate risk when combined with erratic driving.
Given the ongoing political uncertainty in Libya, combined with reports of clashes in towns and cities throughout the country that add to the perception of insecurity, foreign companies have been relatively slow to return. Those with major concessions were the first in country following the revolution, as they looked to secure their existing contracts. Others have been satisfied to sit on the sidelines and wait, or to send minimal staff who sit in heavily guarded hotels, to re-open offices and start building relationships in country that may stand them in good stead for the future.Diplomatic staffs continue working, but on the whole they take a higher profile approach, employing Western security companies to provide close protection, with many continuing to travel in large, high profile convoys. Much of this is likely down to required procedures and a lack of accountability in financial terms, as opposed to reflecting a proper assessment of the particular threat environment.