“Costruire la Vostra Nazione?” A Conversation on Italian Peacebuilding in Libya

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After a long and protracted conflict, establishing peace and tranquility in a war-torn state is often easier said than done. One of the most pressing countries where this is required is Libya, which is still struggling to recover after the ouster and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, following the country’s civil war.

Bernardo Monzani, a SAIS Europe alum and founder of the Agency for Peacebuilding, firmly believes that Italy is playing a unique role in the peacebuilding process in Libya. In order to better comprehend what remains to be done, he convened a roundtable at the Bologna campus that drew experts from across Italy and beyond.

As he put it, the goal of the roundtable was to “get people talking, including those that do not normally talk to each other.” Although the meeting was conducted under Chatham House rules and no words can be directly attributed to any individual, there are still some important themes that can be drawn out of the conversation.

During the round table, one of the speakers explored what both Libyans and the international community can do to promote and strengthen the work on the ground, especially the positions of women and other minorities in Libya.

Photo: Wikipedia

Unfortunately, one of the main stumbling blocks to this process is that the Western and especially European idea of civil society and its role has been fundamentally challenged by the Libyans, who have a very different view.

Although there have been CSOs advocating for greater rights for women and youth, the energy that came from these groups at the local level has declined since the political and security context has deteriorated. As a result, many have fled to the private sphere and cannot be as active on the ground today.

Another speaker then pointed out the importance of notables and elders in Libyan society and how they are shaped by Libyan activists. In addition, there was a second group whose role during the initial peace talks was truly vital: the young activists that interfaced between village elders and the representatives of communities in conflict.

However, the key point of the talk was to define peacebuilding and what it meant in the Libyan context.

A third speaker said it depended on what phase of peacebuilding was under question as each had different objectives. For instance, from 2014 to 2015, the goal was to end local conflicts that had turned violent by facilitating mediation. As the military conflict ended and the situation became more politically polarized, a new phase dawned, where the goal was to promote reconciliation, especially across the east-west divide.

However, building trust is never easy, especially since the revolution was also a civil war. There is a need to find entry points into Libyan society to begin to reconstruct it, but it is becoming clear that there is no magic recipe.

As the conference wound down, one of the speakers was able to capture the trials of working in a post-conflict country: “There is a risk of getting sucked into a conflict and once you are, it is done as it is hard to restore your reputation.”

Toni Mikec is a staff writer for the SAIS Bologna Observer. He is an MA student concentrating in Strategic Studies at SAIS Bologna. You can find him on his website.

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