Assignment seven: Smuggling in Libya

While researching our North Africa presentation for last Friday, I read a lot about the issue of smuggling in North Africa. My paper is on the narcotics trade in North Africa, but I didn’t know the full extent of smuggling in North Africa until I started to research Libya. I read this article in my research from the Carnegie Peace Endowment:

While thinking of illegal border activities and smuggling, I first thought of obvious narcotics or people smuggling operations. I never even considered that more normal goods were being smuggled. It never occurred that things like cigarettes, fuel, or other “consumer goods” would be smuggled so much across borders. Learning that around half of Libyan money is made from “informal” methods was a surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn’t have been. You always here about the situation in Libya on the news, but it is usually focused on things like terrorism. When doing further research and thinking about it more, it makes sense that a lot of business in Libya is conducted illegally. It is a failed state, where the west backed central government holds little territory and the rest of the country is being fought over by many different factions. The Libyan borders were already a hot spot for illegal smuggling before the civil war just because the borders are long stretches of desert with little people living there, making them hard to police. With the civil war, smuggling has become more encouraged. Different groups control different sections of the border and often make a profit from the illegal smuggling there because it makes more money than legal economic activities.

Here is a map of who controls what in Libya as of July 19, 2018. It really puts into perspective the instability of the country, and how control of the borders would help one group in power gain over another. You can see the long sections of the yellow or mixed/unclear control to see that much of the border is contested for obvious reasons. Those reasons being that the border is so important and constantly being fought over, or also because little people live there so it is unclear who controls the area.

2 Replies to “Assignment seven: Smuggling in Libya”

  1. Arguably, if Libya wasn’t oil-rich and therefore, under Gadhafi, a rentier state, it would have had to build up more reliable sources of government revenue including taxes and duties, and worked harder to secure those long borders. It didn’t and, as you note above, smuggling has been a vital economic activity for people who live both sides of the border for decades. Even if the Tripoli government somehow defeats or makes peace with Haftar and begins to restore order in the country, it seems unlikely that the borders will be properly controlled for a long time. What do you think the effects are on Libya’s neighbors?

    1. I think the main effects on Libya’s neighbors in terms of border security is terrorism. Some of Libya’s neighbors also rely on the smuggling industry as a big economic factor, and because of the environment surrounding Libya’s borders they will always be hard to police. This being said, Libya’s neighbors have a large problem concerning terrorism in the region because of terrorist groups renewed interest in fighting in North Africa since Libya’s collapse. If the civil war ends with a more stable central government controlling most of the country, they will still have to deal with the huge amount of terrorists who came to the region and they will most likely have to work with their neighbors to solve this problem.

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