Arabia unleashed

Travelling to Libya is like turning back the clock forty years, says HINK HUISMAN, reporting that the North African country is ripe with opportunity
Libya: the city is now open to foreign investment and small scale private enterprises

A recent business trip took me to Tripoli, Libya. It was like a trip in a time capsule straight back into the 60s and 70s.

Arriving at Tripoli airport is like most others of developing countries and appears to be good for keeping the unemployment rates to a minimum, but it is hassle free and once through immigration and collecting luggage, I had a good escort driving me to the only non-government but foreign-owned hotel in Tripoli, the Corinthia Bab Africa. A good hotel, no doubt, without the glitz of the Middle Eastern Hotels, and very inviting indeed with a selection of restaurants to choose from.
As is normal for me on the first day of play in a foreign place, I never venture beyond the hotel property but spend time to get myself acquainted to the place I am in and to its surroundings. So, during that first day I organized several trips to take me to places of interest to me, as well as that I started talking to an elderly gentleman sitting in the coffee shop of the hotel and we started talking about the old times, as well as the days to come, especially for Libya.
On the second day of my five-day stay, I ventured out into the walled old city of Tripoli, which seemed untouched since the 70s. No high rises, only hundreds of little alleys with one little shop after another, all of which had the vendor sitting outside and welcoming the passers-by. But I did notice the strong Italian architectural influences in the old town as well as some extremely interesting buildings. Business is small scale and very few firms are privately owned, although as Libya has now opened up to foreign investments, more and more of privately owned enterprises are to be found, but still all on a rather small scale.
There is a lot to be done and there a lot of opportunities if Libya stays on the course it has chosen for itself at this juncture, and is capable of convincing the world community. Libya’s infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, and the country clearly has tremendous potential. The Great Man Made Canal is a wonderful example of how arid desert land can be turned into a vegetable and fruit basket for the Libyans and hopefully will become the same for the surrounding countries. The coastal strip of Libya is surprisingly very green, stretching inland considerably.
Hopefully with foreign investments coming into the country, it will not just create more and better employment opportunities for the Libyans, but equally so to create a more competitive environment and develop a sense of competition back into it’s people, a people who appear to become rather complacent with their lives. It may take several years, but with the abundance of oil and a strong oil based income and industry the diversification needed can be achieved in a few years time.
Already more new foreign-owned hotels and resorts are under construction and more are being planned. Libya is taking advantage now of the European tourists hunger for new and exotic cultures. Creating a better understanding between the West and their neighbours who are only divided by a relatively narrow sea strip.
Culturally, Libya has a lot to offer as first of all the Phoenicians set foot on Libyan shores, soon after wards followed by the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, as well as several European countries, including Malta and Italy, all of which have left an abundance of their respective cultures behind for the world to see. The Byzantines and the Roman ruins I have visited are of tremendous interest and size as well. Lepcis Magna surely must be the biggest city ever uncovered outside of Italy and only 30 per cent of this impressive city has been uncovered and excavated. Some has been restored, but mostly left alone and it will become a tremendous archaeological ‘playground’ for many countries ready and willing to help and restore these cities to the benefit if the world at large, but especially to the Libyan people.
Cultural development, combined with utilizing the oil dollar and support industries must become the cornerstone if the words of the Greek historian Herodotus – that the new comes from Libya – are to come true once again. The question remains: is Libya ready for that change?