The Fezzan region of Libya is home both to the country’s largest oil field, making it key to Libya’s oil-based economy, and to some of its direst poverty. Young people have borne the brunt of the region’s chronic development challenges, making them vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and criminal networks. This report focuses on the grievances of Fezzan’s youth and explores how peacebuilding efforts can channel their needs and aspirations into larger conversations about the region’s long-term political and economic development.

A car drives along the road between Sebha and Ubari in southwestern Libya on December 24, 2013. Both cities are ethnically and tribally mixed, making them flash points for conflict. (Paul Schemm/AP)
A car drives along the road between Sebha and Ubari in southwestern Libya on December 24, 2013. Both cities are ethnically and tribally mixed, making them flash points for conflict. (Paul Schemm/AP)

Summary

Fezzan is home to Libya’s biggest oil field, making the region key to the country’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy. Yet Fezzan remains the poorest region in Libya, with its youth bearing the brunt of chronic developmental challenges. This makes them vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and criminal networks. As a result, youth have become drivers of conflict and instability in the region. Some have resorted to controversial tactics, including sabotaging energy infrastructure—thereby disrupting the national economy—to make their grievances heard.

Studies on youth in Libya tend to have a national focus. This report instead focuses on the grievances and demands of youth in Fezzan specifically and how they perceive security, developmental, and reconciliation dynamics. It explores how their voices can be amplified to contribute constructively to the conversation regarding medium- to long-term developmental challenges in their communities and the wider region.

Peacebuilding in Fezzan should bring the needs and aspirations of youth into conversations about political and developmental frameworks, including those related to corporate social responsibility. With elections scheduled for December 2021 expected to deliver Libya’s first unified government with a popular mandate since 2014, there is an opportunity to ensure Fezzan is prioritized by the future executive and by Libya’s international partners. Furthermore, the National Oil Corporation, which oversees the energy sector, should be encouraged to engage more with youth through dialogue about the future of their region and by investing in programs that provide a pathway to economic self-sufficiency, which could be expected to pay a peace dividend. 

About the Report

Limited economic opportunity in the Fezzan region of southern Libya has been a driver of local conflicts and fueled a narrative among youth of pervasive marginalization. This report, based on a survey of Fezzan youth, seeks to elicit what they consider to be the chief challenges they face and solutions they envision, with a particular focus on the region’s oil industry. Work was supported by the Libya Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

About the Authors

Mary Fitzgerald is a writer, researcher, and consultant specializing in the countries of the Mediterranean rim, with a particular focus on Libya. She has worked with several international organizations operating in Libya and is a contributing author to The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath (Oxford University Press). Nathaniel L. Wilson is USIP’s Libya Country Manager.

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