Local Security Governance in Libya

Perceptions of security and protection in a fragmented country - October 2018

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"Libya currently has no central government that is legitimate, effective or both. As a result, alternative informal power settlements have taken shape across the country, and these have begun to provide core government functions. In many areas in Libya, the ‘state’ is present through its formal institutions, but has to share authority, legitimacy and capacity with informal power brokers such as tribal elders, military councils and militias.

This research presented in this report focuses on local security governance in Libya, which is in the hands of a mix of political, armed and social actors with distinctive roots and interests and with various levels of authority, legitimacy and effectiveness. It specifically looks at how protection and security are organized, and by whom. More than an analysis of local actors and their relationship with the central state, this report offers an exploration of citizens’ experiences and perceptions of local security provision. To grasp such perspectives, the report is based on a household survey on safety and security conducted in various municipalities in Libya.

The survey results demonstrate the need to stretch the understanding of how local governance functions beyond formal institutions. A majority of the 144 respondents says that local actors provide security in their municipality, not national ones like the governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. Moreover, security is provided by a combination of formal actors, like security directorates, as well as informal ones, like tribes. Many respondents also say that armed groups are most powerful, and sometimes necessary for protection, but that does not earn armed groups much legitimacy. Instead, respondents overwhelmingly say that formal bodies, like the municipal council and security directorates, are considered most legitimate. Tribes are also trusted as a backstop safety net, particularly in municipalities with homogenous power structures.

The report therefore emphasizes that, in order to be effective and conflict-sensitive, any policy and programming in Libya requires up-to-date knowledge of local power arrangements and the political economies in which programmes are implemented. Besides formal bodies, trusted informal security providers should be taken into account as well, particularly when they work with municipal councils. It is advisable that the international community holds on to its commitment to engage with democratically elected civilian bodies and focuses its attention on existing security institutions like the security directorates, not in the least because a majority of Libyans wants that. But at the same time, it can be argued that in practice policy programming requires contact and engagement with the full spectrum of local governance providers, even with informal groups that are unaligned with the internationally backed government and which may have dubious track records, in order to achieve tangible results. This is not to say that the power of non-state armed groups should be left unaddressed. Because most respondents see informal armed groups (militia) as one of the main problems of Libya, breaking the power of informal armed groups, for example by disconnecting economic opportunity from armed group membership, should be an essential part of policy programming. Finally, this report argues that the international assistance community should tune in to Libyan community organizations from across the country to understand local governance configurations, and to harvest their ideas on legitimate security governance."

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