The recent clashes between rival groups that resulted in at least 30 deaths in Sabha are a poignant reminder of the rampant lawlessness that is evident elsewhere as well. Despite the efforts of government forces to maintain calm and prevent a further esclation, the situation remains tense.
More dangerous is the emergence of an ethnic-centric posturing that rival groups are adopting. The rise of such a trend is not surprising in Libya’s tribal society especially in the absence of a strong and effective central rule. So far, the NTC has failed in imposing its authority over the armed militias, that taking advantage of the post-Gaddafi chaos have refused to disarm or give up their hold on certain areas.
Already the ruling government is facing a bigger challenge from the eastern region where the demand for the formation of a semi-autonomous “State of Cyrenaica” has caught impetus. With other tribes like the Toubou — involved in the recent clashes at Sabah — jumping on the same bandwagon and pledging to work towards the creation of a South Sudan type state, Libya’s troubles seem to be multiplying. Such demands jeopardise national unity and will increase unless the central authorities take firm action and impose their writ. Ridding the country of Colonel Gaddafi helped by international efforts seems to have been easier in comparison to the present challenges. The fact that these militias and other groups are now defying those at the helm and are even challenging national unity is because of the lack of fear and respect for the government. The longer the interim government takes in imposing its rule in letter and spirit, the harder it will be to regain control. In fact, any weakness in the center is likely to have far worse repercussions on the entire state. Libya cannot afford that. Any grievances that have built up over the years must be addressed so the ties to the state remain intact and get stronger. It is time that those in charge stop blaming the previous regime for these problems and focus efforts on consolidating control by improving law and security. At the same time efforts for initiating political outreach to all disgruntled groups must be speeded. Only then can the interim setup create an environment that will allow a healthier political process to evolve and take shape.