Despite his iron fist rule, the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi transformed Libya into a prosperous state by stimulating the industrial sector that became the backbone of its economy. EPA PIC

IT has been eight years since the downfall and the merciless assassination of Libya’s once great leader Muammar Gaddafi who came to power in 1969 and ruled for 42 years.

Despite his iron fist rule, Gaddafi was able to turn Libya into a prosperous state that rivalled its neighbours in terms of economic success.

During the first few years of his rule Gaddafi was able to increase Libya’s per capita income to US$11,000 (RM45,500) — making it the fifth highest in Africa and all done without any foreign borrowing.

Rich in oil reserves — the largest in Africa and 10th largest in the world, Gaddafi was able to stimulate the industrial sector that became the backbone of Libya’s economy.

The strong petrochemical industry provided more than 63 per cent of its gross national product, employing 25 per cent of its active population. Also doing well was its service industry that accounted for some 35 per cent of its gross domestic product.

More admirable was Gaddafi’s stewardship in revolutionising Libya’s agriculture sector. He called for the construction of the grand man-made river, which is by far the largest irrigation project in the world.

From being one of the driest countries on Earth, bereft of rivers, lakes or rain, Gaddafi was able to turn Libya’s desert sand into soil by tapping into fossil water — the ice-aged water preserved 600m below the surface of the desert, pumped above ground to five giant reservoirs that bloomed the desert and stimulated its agriculture activity.

On the world stage, Gaddafi ensured that Libya had a face in the international community. A strong voice at the United Nations, Libya became a party of 11 out of the 18 human rights treaties. Gaddafi was the driving force in founding the African Union (AU) in 2002 and had donated millions of Libya’s oil money to the AU’s annual operating budget.

At its height, Libya had more than 125 diplomatic and consular representations abroad. Sadly, all of Gaddafi’s efforts were forgotten by the very people he helped to please.

In 2011, tens of thousands of the Libyan population went to the streets to revolt against his so-called oppressive regime.

The Arab Spring, that started in North Africa and the Middle East, had infected Libya and the people demanded their rights for a better standard of living and for their fundamental rights to be upheld.

The uprising that never abated became violent and the government began to use force against its civilians, including the use of military aircraft, mortars and heavy weaponry.

The United Nations Security Council demanded the immediate end of violence and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

This started the arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze that affected Libya adversely. A subsequent UN mandate allowed the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. On Oct 20, 2011 Gaddafi was captured and mercilessly killed by a militant group later that day.

The visual of him saddled on the bonnet of a jeep, apparently shot and begging for his life, resonated in the minds of many to this day. Once a great and respected leader to many, he was treated inhumanly in the moments following his death.

Yet, there is still no peace in Libya. Months and years after his death, terrorists attacked embassies of the United States, France, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, South Korea and Morocco. In the south of the country there was an upsurge of trafficking in humans, weapons and drugs, and infighting escalated between tribal militias in the west.

Libya became what many scholars described as a failed state — a state devoid of an effective government and characterised by chaos and anarchy, a collapse of the judiciary, and rampant instances of crimes against humanity.

The country is now split into two with the Tripoli government in the west — the Government of National Accord that is recognised by the United Nations, and in the east — a government supported by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar who controls the Libyan National Army and Libya’s oil resources.

Haftar once fled to the US in 1990 and became a US citizen only to return to Libya in 2011. He is a contender to the presidency together with three others, including Gaddafi’s surviving son, Saif al-Islam. The elections that were intended to unite the Libyans to be held this year has been postponed to next year.

But conflicts and wars as we observe never last forever. There appears to be gestures on the part of the US, France, the UAE, Egypt and Russia to provide moral support to Haftar’s government in its quest to fight against militant terrorism.

Foreign energy firms from the US, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and China have returned to Libya. This year, for instance, the US trade with Libya has touched the US$1 billion mark.

Despite the disruptions, Libya continues to produce one million barrels of crude oil per day. Even Malaysia is receiving higher imports from Libya, recording RM286.6 million in revenue this year.

The international community should lend a hand to bring Libya back to what it was before. It is not a “failed state” but one that promises prosperity which Libya can achieve if it realises its potential.