Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Disarming Militias in Libya: Look to the Examples of Others

The BBC reported on how in Benghazi and Tripoli last week (10/29), over 600 Libyan militiamen turned over their weapons to the Libyan army in exchange for the opportunity to win electronics such as laptops and TVs.
This is just a small victory for peace building considering that some 200,000 Libyans  have access to over 2 million weapons that include a variety of weapons ranging from tanks to handguns.

The weapons are in the hands of militia groups  as a result of the 2011 Libyan civil war and were primarily acquired from the Gaddafi regime or from neighboring countries. Previous attempts to collect them have failed but it seems that momentum was gained after the attack on the US embassy in Libya on September 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The government put out public announcements on TV for the recall of weapons and it worked to a limited degree because of disgust over the terrorist act from just a few weeks before and a desire on the part of many civilians to establish peace and begin rebuilding the state. See the report here.

Peter Fragiskatos argues, in a BBC op-ed, that there are hundreds of militia groups motivated by  two reasons: for ideological reasons and for
material gains.   We know that at least this recent success story appealed to those looking for material gains. The trick may be figuring out the right incentives for groups that are motivated by ideological reasons. Attempts to replicate this recent weapons turnover will likely be tried in other Libyan cities. What can be learned from this?

Fragiskatos pointed out that this is not the first successful attempt by governments to collect arms after domestic civil strife. He highlights
that there have been successful attempts in Albania, Mozambique and Cambodia to collect weapons. In these cases, governments provided the militia with job training, various tools, or community projects using local labor as incentive for weapons turnover to the military.

If the Libyan government would like to implement weapons collections in other cities and make meaningful progress to this end, perhaps they should upgrade incentives to more practical ones that could offer the militia groups opportunity to improve their livelihoods. TVs are not going to provide permanent employment opportunities for these rebels. Rather, job education, household tools, public works projects will help to employ people and rebuild society. Furthermore, with help from the international community in the form aid, there should be guaranteed incentives offered to every one of the 200,000 estimated rebels who hand in weapons rather than entering them into a lottery with only the potential to win prizes.

It is still too soon to tell if this will be successful in fostering peace and aiding the society rebuilding process. In the months to come. if the Libyan government continues to successfully recall weapons, this could offer insight into how to help heal future post conflict societies and how to help them avoid falling into  viscous cycles of conflict.

Check out this BBC video clip of a Libyan weapons collection checkpoint and read the full article, “Libyans hand over hundreds of weapons to army.”

Priscilla DeGregory is a graduate student in the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston.

 

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