State building is a term often bandied about without consideration for its deeper meanings. Over the coming months and years, Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) and the democratically elected governments that will succeed it face the mammoth task of creating a new national identity for the country after four decades of rule by Muammar Gaddafi. This includes the creation of new state institutions and the reconstruction of the economy.
If they are successful, Libya could resemble a Gulf state, with the country’s huge hydrocarbon wealth redistributed to its people. However, the spectre of Iraq looms large. Saddam Hussein may have been unseated with surprising ease in 2003, but the country descended into a chaos, score-settling and sectarian violence that continues today.
To date, the signs have been encouraging. Gaddafi was deposed not by a foreign invading force – although Nato certainly played a big role – but by a guerrilla army made up of a broad coalition of different Libyan groups.
In cities where the NTC seized control during the eight-month civil war, it worked hard to restore at least a modicum of order, moving quickly to get utilities up and running, streets cleaned and health services operating.
In another reassuring sign, the NTC has kept on civil servants and technocrats who worked for government ministries and companies before the war, opting not to repeat the mistakes made in Iraq when large swathes of government employees were purged for Baath party membership.
The big challenge for the NTC now is to make the move from a temporary government focused on winning control of the country to a transitional council with the public aim of state-building in all its forms. This may well be as tricky a task as ousting Gaddafi. In the run-up to national elections in June 2012, the NTC will have to work hard to foster unity, rebuild infrastructure and, above all, be seen to be transparent and accountable.