Most Worsened Country for 2012: Libya

Published June 20, 2012
By J. J. Messner
Failed States Index 2012
It probably comes as little surprise that the most worsened country in the 2012 Failed States Index was Libya. As the convulsions of the Arab Spring reached Libya, the nation spiraled from protest to brutal repression to civil war to regime change.
Though Libya’s decline in the 2012 Index is hardly shocking, what does make it all the more remarkable is the scale of that decline. Indeed, the 16.2 point year-on-year increase since the 2011 Index marks the largest single year decline of a country in the history of the Failed States Index, eclipsing the previous record of 11.9 point jump experienced by Lebanon between 2006 and 2007 as a result of the short conflict with neighboring Israel. Libya also shot up 61 places, from 111th in 2011 to 50th in 2012.
With the support of NATO airstrikes, the rebels of the National Transitional Council (NTC) managed to overthrow the tyrannical Muammar Qaddafi and move the country more towards democratic governance. Were it not for the relative stability imposed upon the country towards the end of the year, there is every possibility that Libya could have worsened even more than it actually did.

Unsurprisingly for a country that experienced a brutal civil conflict during the year, many of its individual indicator scores worsened significantly. Group Grievance, for example, increased by one full point, expressing the anger of much of the population towards its now-deposed government. The Refugees and IDPs indicator also worsened, by 0.5, as many were internally displaced as they fled the conflict. That indicator score would surely have worsened even more were it not for the propensity of many Libyans to remain in situ to wait out the conflict, given the minimal and quite dangerous transportation links between Libyan towns and the outside world.
Libya’s economic indicators were also hit severely, with both increasing by roughly a full point, largely as a result of the cut in productivity that war entails. All foreign oil firms ceased production during the conflict and evacuated staff, leaving oil fields at a standstill and, even worse, the subject of wanton destruction and sabotage by the warring parties. Given that oil and gas exports account for roughly 97.5% of Libya’s total trade earnings, the abrupt halt to production hit the Libyan economy hard. The country has benefitted however from the unfreezing of billions of dollars of previously frozen assets that were the subject of international sanctions in response to the frequent and long-standing recalcitrance of the Qaddafi regime.
Though most foreign oil firms have returned to Libya and some have restarted production, it is likely to be quite some time before production — and thus exports — reaches pre-conflict levels. Therefore, it is likely that the economic shockwaves of the conflict will be felt for quite some time yet.
The economic indicators will also be the source of much interest moving forward, as the lack of economic opportunity will likely be a source of constant friction within Libyan society. Though many see the Libyan revolution as a response to the brutality, corruption and excess of the Qaddafi regime, in many ways it was just as much about lack of economic opportunity, especially for Libya’s youth. Libya’s new leadership must recognize that they will be expected to deliver economic opportunities to much of the population, and quickly. There are now tens of thousands of armed young Libyans who find themselves with a victory but few spoils. The collective euphoria that comes with victory will soon fade as yesterday’s revolutionary freedom fighters become today’s unemployed, and well-armed, youth. Without an immediate focus on the provision of economic opportunities for many of the young fighters who helped win the war, the economic factors will soon strongly impact other key indicators.
Of all indicators, the most heavily-impacted were the political ones. External Intervention rose from 4.4 in 2011 to 9.0 in 2012, symptomatic of a relatively closed country then becoming the focal point of UN Security Council-mandated air strikes orchestrated by a collection of NATO and like-minded nations. Although lacking a boots-on-the-ground aspect, the airstrikes nevertheless produced substantial damage to the regime and its military infrastructure to help facilitate the victory of the rebels.
The next two largest indicator spikes were experienced by Public Services and Security Apparatus. The former indicator will probably take some time to mend, as government services as well as the actual physical infrastructure that was damaged during the conflict requires significant rehabilitation. Depending on the progress in regard to the security situation, this indicator could be one of the first to stabilize. However, if competition between militias for control of territory and influence continues, this may undermine such progress, especially compounded by the training and professionalism gaps evident among the militia groups.
Though both the scores for Factionalized Elites and Legitimacy of the State worsened by roughly a point each in 2012, the consolidation of power by the NTC and the — at least for now — general support of the administration probably prevented the scores worsening any further. The temporary nature of the NTC has created an uncertain environment and although the NTC has enjoyed the patience of the people, this tolerance will last for only so long. Failure to quickly gain the trust of the Libyan people and to demonstrate that the country is moving forward rapidly will likely continue to dent the country’s State Legitimacy score.
Theoretically, there is every chance that Libya can rebound in 2012 in the way that Kyrgyzstan did this year following its recovery from revolution the preceding year. However, as long as the NTC fails to provide evidence of tangible gains stabilizing governance of Libya, let alone economic opportunity for a large and restless youth population, any such recovery will be hard fought.