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Freedom and the re-birth of a nation

Inger Andersen's picture
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As I sit in Tripoli Airport, Libya waiting to board my flight home, I reflect on my past three days in this amazingly bold and brave country.

The very fact alone that this country and its people were in bondage for 42 years is unbelievable. The fact that the nation rose up against tyranny in spite of real danger, incredible losses and an uncertain outcome is a testimony to the courage and determination of a people to win their freedom.  And the fact that the Libyan people, and especially its young men and women, hold such incredible optimism about the future, speaks to the indomitable spirit of a nation: a nation determined to pave a new and bright future for itself despite many obstacles on the path.

Photo Source: World BankDuring my visit I met the Prime Minister, his Deputy and much of the Cabinet. I also met young women and men who are working hard to create a new, positive and different future for themselves and their country.  And I met private sector representatives, who are determined to expand and create jobs and opportunity and to help diversify an economy that is 80 percent dominated by the hydrocarbon sector.

The challenges faced by this young reborn nation are many.  About 33 percent of Libyans are out of work, and these are mostly the youth. But today, 55 percent of the labor force works in the public sector.  This is of course the legacy of a determined effort by the past regime to squash private enterprise and creativity which serve as an alternative and independent source of existence beyond the reach and control of the state.

Indeed, the legacy of dictatorship is deep and pervasive.  In the 1970s, all private ownership was banned and all private business and property were confiscated. While small business were later tolerated as long as they did not grow, in today's Libya, with infrastructure decaying or destroyed during the war, there are few large-scale Libyan companies that can be contracted to undertake the massively needed repair and reconstruction.

During my visit, I met with brilliant young people some of whom had fought during the struggle for freedom and who now work in the service of their country.  Some had established civil society organizations working on empowering other youths; some were working on deepening the roots of democracy by monitoring and holding the government accountable; and one young man had established his own very popular radio station.  All emphasized the importance of jobs and opportunities so that young people can start their lives, including getting married and starting a family. 

So what would it take to create jobs, to create opportunities and to drive the growth of a vibrant, dynamic economy? Reforming the business climate, cutting the mires of red tape that makes it extremely hard to establish and run a company. Reforming the banking sector is equally important. In today's Libya, all banks are government-owned and see their primary role as deposit keeper rather than financiers of much-needed infrastructure, business and production.  These reforms would enable people with a great business idea to register their business with ease with a government that sees private sector led growth as key to long term success.  With such reforms these new businesses would secure credit from a Libyan banking system that sees its primary goal as providing services and credit to Libya's population. And finally, reforms in Libya's education sector would mean improving both content and quality, so that young people acquire skills that encourage and reward innovation, that foster critical and creative thinking and that develop management and an entrepreneurial spirit.  With an improved investment climate, with a banking sector wanting to spur private sector-led growth and with graduates with entrepreneurial skills, much can be achieved.

Would these reforms alone be sufficient for a vibrant Libyan economy?  No, but they would go a long way towards beginning to address the challenges. And all the people I met in Libya expressed great determination to meet these challenges. They also stressed that Libya will need help and advice from outside to succeed having been isolated for so long.  Libya does not need financing from the World Bank, but Libya needs to link with other countries to learn from their experiences, to understand the lessons they learned and to consider these as Libya defines its own future. And that is precisely what the World Bank will now offer to our Libyan partners.

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