The Government of National Accord’s (GNA) entry into Tripoli on March 30, 2016, came with new promises to reunite Libya, defeat the Islamic State (IS) and rebuild the economy. Since the GNA’s arrival and establishment, the international community has demonstrated their support for the new government, dispatching high-level delegations to the Libyan capital for short visits with the Prime Minister and his deputies.
With the prospect of some foreign diplomatic missions reopening their embassies and resuming operations, international businesses are considering a possible return to Libya as well. Whispering Bell has compiled this report to address some of the key political, security and operational concerns and challenges facing companies considering a reentry into the Libyan market.
Flights to Libya:
Flights to Libya are currently limited to mainly Libyan airline operators traveling to the country. These include Libyan Airlines, Afriqiyah Airways, Libyan Wings and Buraq Air. Medavia, a Maltese company, is the only international operator offering chartered flights from Malta to Tripoli.
Libya currently has four international airports: Tripoli Mitiga Airport (MJI) and Misrata Airport (MRA) operate in the west of the country, while Al Bayda La Abraq Airport (LAQ) and Tobruk Gamal Abdel Nasser Airport (TOB) operate in the east of the country.
When planning a trip to Libya it is important to note that flight schedules can change from week to week with little or no notice, and that flight delays are common.
Embassies re-opening in Libya
Most foreign diplomatic missions evacuated Tripoli when major armed clashes broke out between Misrata and Zintan militias during the summer of 2014. Since then, most foreign diplomatic missions have not permanently resumed operations in Tripoli, aware of the fragility of the current political situation and the potential for renewed conflict to occur with little or no warning.
Tunisia was the first nation to announce the re-opening of its consulate and embassy in Tripoli on April 4, though sources on the ground stated that as of June the embassy and consulate are not operating and closed to the public. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to operate its consulate from Misrata. During a visit on May 30, Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu stated his intent to reopen the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli soon, without mentioning a specific date. Other high-level international delegations, foreign ministers and ambassadors have also visited Tripoli recently, including France, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands.
British Ambassador Peter Millett has also indicated the British Embassy’s intent to reopen in Tripoli. Despite their public statements in recent weeks, no Western embassy has permanently resumed operations, which is likely a sign of lingering concerns over the long-term stability and security in Tripoli and throughout the country more broadly.
Visas to enter Libya
Business visas to Libya are still being processed and require an invitation letter from a local company. Multiple entry visas can be provided for 3 or 6 months, with the ability to remain in country for a maximum of 45 days at a time.
Current political situation in Libya
Since 2014, there have been two opposing governments in Libya: the General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli and the House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk. In Mar 2016, the establishment and entry of the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA) introduced a third government into the tense political situation. However, the majority of militias in western Libya, including those from Misrata, realigned themselves with the GNA and away from the GNC, which has lost most of its recognition and authority even though it has not stepped down officially.
Meanwhile, the HoR in Tobruk continues to operate but has been unable to hold a formal vote to endorse the GNA, which would unite the country under a single government. A majority of HoR members have expressed their support for the GNA with an unofficial vote of confidence but have been unable hold an official session to vote due to pressure from anti-GNA factions in the east. Despite this impediment to national unity, the GNA has already moved into eleven ministry buildings in the capital and has gained the support of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), and the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), two of the most critical institutions based in Tripoli. Moreover, the GNA—with international support—has mobilized a militia campaign known as the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos Operation (or Solid Structure Operation in English) to expel IS militants from Sirte.
Current security situation in the capital Tripoli
The overall security situation in Tripoli has stabilized since 2014 following weeks of heavy clashes, which resulted in the expulsion of Zintan militias from the capital, the destruction of Tripoli International Airport and the burning of Tripoli’s main oil storage tanks along Airport Road. Nonetheless, the lack of an organized military and police force means that militias continue to be responsible for law enforcement and security functions in the capital. As a result, small disputes among decentralized, fragmented militias have the potential to escalate into violence with little or no warning.
This situation is likely to continue until a centralized security force with a unified command structure is established. Despite militia efforts to act in a law enforcement capacity, criminal activity remains high throughout Tripoli, including carjackings and kidnappings of local residents, often for financial gain. Despite these challenges, though, visits to Tripoli remain possible with appropriate security measures and planning in place.
What should companies be thinking as they look to re-enter Libya?
Companies looking to re-enter Libya need to consider the following factors from a security and operational perspective:
Minimise movement and duration of stay: The overall Tripoli security situation remains fluid with ongoing threats of kidnapping and armed robberies. Movements around the city should be minimized and only occur during daylight hours. All movements should be planned in advance and routes checked ahead of time to avoid illegal checkpoints, road closures or sporadic violence stemming from local disputes.
Revise and update security and operational procedures: Security policies, including evacuation plans, should be reviewed and updated regularly in accordance with the evolving security environment. Accommodation and office locations should also be reassessed before returning to country.
Choosing your local business partner: The political landscape continues to shift in Libya, with powerful family names, tribes and cities often gaining or losing political influence. International companies considering entering the Libyan market should carry out the necessary due diligence and background checks of local partners to avoid any reputational or legal risks.
Adapt to cope with damaged infrastructure and difficult business environment: Tripoli still suffers from long power cuts and the banks suffer from a serious liquidity crisis. The power cuts also lead to limited mobile phone and internet connectivity. International companies can also expect slow and complex bureaucratic procedures, corruption, and delayed payments due to a significant decline in oil revenue. These issues are likely to continue unabated over the coming months.
The presence of IS in Libya update
Despite a number of IS attacks against oilfields and infrastructure in Libya since the beginning of 2015, IS has been on the defensive and losing ground in many parts of the country in recent months. Rival factions have been fighting IS forces in Derna and Benghazi in the east, Sabrata in the west, and recently Sirte in central Libya. The Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos Operation has made significant progress against IS in central Libya, seizing vital infrastructure and facilities from IS, including Sirte Airport and power plant, the radio station and sea port.
Meanwhile, the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) has advanced against IS from the east of Sirte and expelled IS forces from towns in the area. Bin Jawad and Al-Nawfaliyah had been under the control of IS for over a year but have now been seized by PFG forces. However, despite IS losing ground in many of its previous strongholds in Libya, they continue to pose a threat around the country. Over the coming months, IS may switch to more traditional insurgency-type attacks with a focus on targeted killings and suicide bombings as they are routed from their bases and withdraw to the hinterlands of central and southern Libya.
About Whispering Bell
Whispering Bell provides integrated risk management solutions to enable our clients to operate safely and securely in hostile or complex environments.
Established in 2009 and headquartered in Dubai, Whispering Bell rapidly expanded its offerings across the region in support of oil and gas, critical national infrastructure, energy, telecommunications and government clients in complex and high-risk environments. The British and Arabic origins of our company have afforded us the flexibility and cross-cultural understanding necessary to develop long-term, sustainable solutions for our clients. Our primary objective is to provide a quality service delivered on time and within budget.