Behind the contrasting scenes of anger and jubilation surrounding the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from jail in Scotland, Libya’s rehabilitation into the international business community has been progressing quietly for years.
Opponents of the release on compassionate grounds are keen to make the link between Al-Megrahi’s release and the West’s need for Libyan oil and gas. But it is Tripoli that has been pushing for improved relations with the West since the UN Security Council voted to end its sanctions regime in 2003.
The political impetus to modernise Libya has been at its most pronounced over the past two years in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the socialist revolution on 1 September this year. Forty years after Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi led the revolution that swept him to power, the country desperately needs international companies’ expertise to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure and boost oil production, which, at 1.7 million barrels a day, is half what it was in the late 1960s.
Given Libya’s status as Africa’s most oil-rich nation, it is unsurprising that international oil companies were the first to enter the country after 2003, when Tripoli invited them to bid for oil and gas exploration licences. Construction companies and equipment providers followed, bidding for tenders on major engineering projects such as 12 desalination plants, a new airport and terminal buildings in Tripoli, and a network of 25 universities.
Without investment from experienced foreign companies, Libya would have struggled even more to emerge from decades of economic isolation. The elaborate stage for the 40th anniversary celebrations in Tripoli’s Green Square could not have been erected without the scores of foreign companies that have been building it in recent weeks.