U.S. Has Big Dreams for Libya, but China Has the Big Contracts

By Susan Jones | August 9, 2013 | 9:09 AM EDT

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones presents her credentials in Tripoli on June 19, 2013. (Photo From US Embassy Tripoli)

(CNSNews.com) - In her end-of-Ramadan message to Libyans, U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones envisioned a "vibrant and productive" Libya, one filled with tourists, five-star hotels, waterfront restaurants and "modern, eco-friendly architecture."

But who's going to build it?

China's longstanding contracts to build railroad lines across Libya were interrupted by the 2011 revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, but recent press reports say those stalled projects may be reactivated. And in May, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation signed an agreement in Benghazi to resume work on 20,000 housing units, the Libya Herald reported.

Libya's weak government and armed militias pose a challenge to any country doing business there, and that is particularly true for the U.S. following the terror attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.

The State Department currently is warning U.S. citizens about the risks of traveling to Libya "because of ongoing instability and violence." The United States "strongly advises" against all but essential travel to Tripoli, and it advises against "all" travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid, and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra.

As of June 6, the U.S. Embassy in Libya remains an "unaccompanied post" due to security concerns, meaning that family members cannot be there with embassy staff. And the embassy in Tripoli was one of 19 U.S. diplomatic posts closed this week because of an unspecified terrorist threat.

Nevertheless, in her Aug. 7 Eid Al-Fitr message to Libyans, Ambassador Jones talked about her vision for the country:

"Every time I drive along the Corniche by the port in Tripoli, en route to my meetings, I envision a future Libya, with Tripoli and Benghazi joined by the sea, by tourism, by economic endeavour and technological innovation," she wrote.

I see a port whose shallow draughts have been cleaned up and reconfigured to handle the ferries and shuttles from cruise ships that transport the thousands of tourists who will come to see this beautiful country, so easily accessed from Europe and elsewhere, with its marvelous weather and no fewer than five world heritage sites.

I see tourists disembarking in Tripoli, the Bride of the Mediterranean, and spending several days touring a restored and charming “old city,” dining on delectable fish in waterfront restaurants and staying in five-star hotels against a backdrop of modern, eco-friendly architecture. After visiting Leptis Magna, Sabratha and the glorious oasis of Ghadames where they are introduced to the ancient and proud pedigree of the Amazigh, these eco-tourists head south to the sands of the Sahara to encounter the unique culture of the noble Tuareg. Here they experience, as I first did while traveling in Tunisia in 1989, the majestic, deafening silence of the desert and the overpowering and humbling nearness of its stars.

Heading back to Tripoli, they catch a sea-shuttle to visit her groom, Benghazi, home to yet a third world heritage site, Cyrene.  In Benghazi they find modern, world-class hospitals providing services to the broader Sahel/Maghreb region, and a downstream petrochemical center tied to the National Oil Corporation, partnering with international oil companies, hopefully American, to develop environmentally sustainable vanguard products.

I could go on and on. The possibilities are endless.

Yes, this is only my dream, but it is not a fantasy. It can be done; it will take time. My government is working now with other G-8 nations to support and train a General Purpose Force for Libya to enhance the security necessary to create safe space for development.

Jones urged "every true Libyan" to "stand up to take ownership of your country and its future."

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States was overtaken by China in 2009 as Africa's major trading partner.

Both the president of China and President Obama traveled to Africa this year, and last November, the Obama administration launched a "Doing Business in Africa" campaign. "Sub-Saharan Africa presents enormous opportunities to the American private sector," the Commerce Department said at the time. Libya is in northern Africa.


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U.S. Encourages Americans to Do Business in Africa, Where China Is Rising