[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 5 May, 2005, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Libya grapples with unemployment
By Rana Jawad
BBC News, Tripoli

After many years when the entire population officially had jobs, Libya is now trying to tackle a growing unemployment problem, as it moves towards a more liberal economy.

Al-Rasheed Street
At night, Al-Rasheed Street becomes an informal market for Libya's poor

Socialist ideology remains deeply entrenched in the mindset of many Libyans.

Officials are struggling to define unemployment and to find solutions for its jobless citizens.

Tripoli's Al-Rasheed Street is known as a hang-out for Libya's jobless citizens, some of whom try to sell anything for pocket-money.

Heavily secured during the day, the area turns into a makeshift market in the evening.

'Moving backwards'

Many people there have a tale to share about their unemployed status, but only a few are willing to talk about it.

"I have a technical school diploma in computing and I have two files at the public workforce ministry with no results," said one former market trader.

Mustafa Al-Zaidi
Previously, everyone who graduated from high school or universities was employed by the state
Mustafa Al-Zaidi
Libyan official
"I've wasted three years waiting for a job opportunity. I used to work in the fish market to try to make a living but the municipal guards removed us, saying we need a licence, although there's no such thing for that type of work. As the world moves forward, we seem to be moving backwards."

Others have similar tales to tell. Official estimates say 13% of Libyans are unemployed. With a local population of 5.5m people, half of whom are under 20, this is an alarming figure and one that calls for solutions.

The government recognises that there is a problem.

"Unemployment is one of our highest priorities on the list," Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem told the BBC.

He said there are many reasons why the problem has emerged.

"There are so many factors, among them at certain period in time, Libya's schools and universities unfortunately stopped teaching English for a long time, which affected the abilities of Libyans to work for foreign companies and also their ability to comprehend what's running around them in this world."

The prime minister added that some foreign companies have violated the mandatory quotas for Libyan employees, and that the government seems to have been relaxed in implementing the laws and regulations in that regard.

What then is the government doing to address unemployment?

"First of all there's a crash programme in training and training in English language, both locally and abroad," Mr Ghanem said.

"Secondly, trying to implement the laws we have and thirdly, to encourage Libyanisation in foreign companies."

Wage slave

But unemployment in Libya is different from unemployment in the rest of the world, because in the past everyone expected a job in the state sector, according to the foreign affairs co-ordinator of the Revolutionary Committee (a body to promote Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's ideology), Mustafa Al-Zaidi.

Libyan PM Shukri Ghanem
Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem said tackling unemployment is a government priority
"Previously, everyone who graduated from high school or universities was employed by the state," he said.

"Of course now the state is overcrowded by employees."

He, however, does not feel that unemployment is a serious problem as "most Libyans are working".

He adds that some Libyans will only work in administrative and managerial jobs and says that three million foreigners have gone to Libya to do the work locals refuse to do.

Mr Gaddafi's Green Book, a national guide to policy, emphasises the need for "partners not wage-workers" and describes wage-workers as "a type of slave".

This ideology presents a conflict with the principles of a free market economy to some, but to others, like Mr Zaidi, this is the way forward for Libyan society.

"We believe in 'partners, not wage-workers' and we are calling for a free society," he said.

"That's why you can see in Libya some who are not implementing the principles of the Green Book of the Revolutionary Committee movement. Maybe they don't agree with it and feel its wrong. We are not forcing them to be partners with a stick, that's not the way it works."

Although the principles outlined in the Green Book are enshrined in Libyan law, Mr Zaidi hinted this could change.

"We raise our points in front of the people's congresses and individuals, if they accept it as a policy, it will be a law; people will choose," he said.


Mr Zaidi went on to stress that the Revolutionary Committee movement does support moves towards privatisation, but not in a capitalist way.

The government recently allocated $2.3bn in bank loans to stimulate local entrepreneurs.

Mohamed Almizoughi, who works in a restaurant, feels that loans are a viable solution for the country's unemployed.

"I think giving loans to young Libyans is a very good idea," he says. "There are many Libyans who have the courage to invest in their business plans and many have been very successful."

Many Libyans are optimistic of what the future holds for them as their government tries to stimulate both local and foreign investment in the country.

But in private, many unemployed Libyans express a lot of frustration as they ask themselves how an oil-producing country with such a small population, is facing high unemployment rates.


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific