Libyans continue to struggle under crippling blackouts in one of the most oil-rich countries in Africa. During hot summer, the hours of power cuts increase in neighborhoods across Libya. Growl of private electricity generators turning on drowns out most other sounds as they pump out acrid smoke from their diesel engines.
Even those who can afford the generators find it hard and expensive to buy fuel, sometimes queuing for hours at a time. The machines often break and piles of old ones are often visible outside the many workshops that have sprung up to repair them.
With power cuts sometimes lasting more than 24 hours, often taking out internet access across whole districts, it comes to affect almost aspect of life. The disastrous crisis has tormented people’s lives so much so that frustration erupted into nationwide protests in early July.
At that time, the internationally-recognized government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh claimed the electricity crisis was caused by the shutdown of the country’s oilfields at the hands of local tribal groups who were demanding that Dbeibeh relinquish power to his parliament-appointed rival Fathi Bashagha. The groups also demanded the dismissal of Mustafa Sanalla, the chairman of the state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC), who is viewed a biased figure responsible for the unequal distribution of revenues generated from oil production to Libya’s marginalized regions. The shutdown prompted NOC to declare force majeure in all major oilfields.
However, the claims of Dbeibeh’s government do not appear to be aligned with reality. The electricity crisis predates the recent shutdown of oilfields. The power sector has suffered a decade of decay since Libya descended into civil war during 2011. An official of the state-run General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL) has previously told AFP in 2021 that the problem was the infrastructure, which has been “decaying for 10 years and requires extensive maintenance.”
Furthermore, the force majeure has been lifted off of the oilfields by NOC in-mid July after Dbeibeh sacked Sanalla and reshuffled the company’s board in an attempt to appease the local groups and calm the angry protesters. Under its new management, NOC announced yesterday that Libya’s oil production was restored to pre-shutdown level, reaching 1.198 million bpd.
This challenges the validity of the claims of Dbeibeh’s government, which the latter appears to have made in order to redirect the protesters’ anger over power cuts towards anti-Dbeibeh groups, instead of providing Libyans of an objective root-cause analysis to establish the source of the crisis and how it can be addressed.
The span of Libya’s decade-long electricity crisis is as long as its political one. The first will not most likely be resolved without the latter, not unless those who are in position of influence stop using it for their own political interests.