The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Libya: Tenth largest oil producer in Africa
Libya or the State of Libya is a North African country situated in the Maghreb region, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad to the south, Niger to the southwest, Algeria to the west, Tunisia to the northwest, and maritime bor- ders with Malta and Turkey.
The sovereign state is made of three historical regions—Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica. Comprising an area of nearly 700,000 square miles, Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa, the fourth largest in the Arab world behind Algeria, and the 16th largest country in the world. The largest city and capital, Tripoli, is located in western Libya and boasts more than three million of Libya's seven million people.
Libya became independent as a kingdom in 1951. A bloodless military coup in 1969—a coalition led by Muammar Gaddafi, overthrew King Idris I and created a republic. Gaddafi was often described by critics as a dictator, and was one of the world's longest serving non-royal leaders, ruling for 42 years. He ruled until his overthrow and death in the 2011 Libyan Civil War, after which authority transferred to the General National Congress. In 2014 two rival authorities claimed to govern Libya, destabilizing the country and leading to a second civil war, with parts of Libya split between the Tobruk and Tripoli-based governments as well as various tribal and Islamist militias. The two warring factions signed a permanent ceasefire in October 2020 and a unity government took authority.
Libya is a member of the United Nations (since 1955), the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab League, OIC and OPEC. The country's official religion is Islam, with 96.6 percent of the Libyan population being Sunni Muslims.
In December 1951, Libya declared its independence as the United Kingdom of Libya, a constitutional and hereditary monarchy under King Idris, Libya's only monarch. The discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959 and the subsequent income from petroleum sales enabled one of the world's poorest nations to establish an extremely wealthy state. Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves in the world.
From 1977 on, the per capita income in the country rose to more than US$11,000, the fifth-highest in Africa, while the Human Development Index became the highest in Africa and greater than that of Saudi Arabia. This was achieved without foreign loans, keeping Libya debt-free. In addition, financial support was provided for university scholarships and employment programs. Much of Libya's income comes from oil, which soared in the 1970s, was spent on arms purchases and on sponsoring dozens of paramilitaries and terrorist groups around the world.
During 2015 an extended series of diplomatic meetings and peace negotiations were supported by the United Nations, as conducted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon. UN support for the SRSG-led process of dialogue carried on in addition to the usual work of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
In July 2015 SRSG Leon reported to the UN Security Council on the progress of the negotiations, which at that point had just achieved a political agreement in July setting out a comprehensive framework of guiding principles and institutions and decision-making mechanisms to guide the transition until the adoption of a permanent constitution. The stated purpose of that process was intended to culminate in the creation of a modern, democratic state based on the principle of
Tripoli is the capital and largest city of Libya, with a population of 1.17 million people. It is located in the northwest of Libya on the edge of the Sahara desert, on a point of rocky land projecting into the Mediterranean Sea and forming a bay.
The Royal Plaza (left) was the residence of the Libyan monarch in the capital city, Tripoli. It is considered one of the largest and most beautiful palaces in Libya. It was built during the rule of Italo Balbo in the 1930s and was officially known as the “Palazzo del Governatore." It was converted into a public library after the coup d'état of Colonel Muammar Gaddaf.
At the right is the Corinthia Hotel Tripoli, a 5-star high-rise hotel in Tripoli, originally known as the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel. It is located in the city center, near the central business district and is run by the Maltese Corinthia Hotels International CHI plc hotels management company. The hotel, which is 28 stories, and has 314 rooms and four restaurants, was opened in 2003.
Scorching daytime temperatures in the Sahara desert average 100 degrees Fah- renheit during the hottest months of July and August. But temperatures can plum- met once the sun sets to an average low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. During the day, the sand's radiation of the sun's energy superheats the air and causes temperatures to soar. However, at night most of the heat in the sand quickly radiates into the air and when there is no sunlight temperature, the surroundings start to drop dramatically.
But the story of the Sahara is not only about boiling heat and frigid cold; Beauty abounds there in sparkling blue-water palmed oases, and ubiquitous and spectacular rippling artistry of the sand illustrated by the wind on granular dune canvases.
Abundant wildlife abounds in Libya from Barbary lions, wild camels and donkeys, to Pharoah eagles, prehistoric wall drawings of giraffes, addax, Barbary sheep, geckos, chameleons, desert hares, North African cheetahs, and Sengalese golden jackals.
inclusion, the rule of law, separation of powers and respect for human rights.
The SRSG praised the participants for achieving an agreement, stating that "The Libyan people have unequivo- cally expressed themselves in favor of peace." The SRSG then informed the Security Council that "Libya is at a critical stage" and urged "all parties in Libya to continue to engage constructively in the dialogue process, declaring, “only through dialogue and political compromise, can a peaceful resolution of the conflict be achieved. A peaceful transition will only succeed in Libya through a significant and coordinated effort in supporting a future Government of National Accord... ."
As part of the ongoing support from the international community, the UN Human Rights Council requested a report about the Libyan situation and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, established an investigative body (OIOL) to report on human rights and rebuilding the Libyan justice system. Chaos-ridden Libya has emerged as a major transit point for people trying to reach Europe. Between 2013 and 2018, nearly 700,000 migrants reached Italy by boat, many of them from Libya. In May 2018 Libya's rival leaders agreed to hold parliamentary and presidential elections following a meeting in Paris. In April 2019, Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Flood of Dignity, in an offensive by the Libyan National Army aimed to seize Western territories from the Government of National Accord (GNA).
In June 2019, forces allied to Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord successfully captured Gharyan, a strategic town where military commander Khalifa Haftar and his fighters were based. According to a spokesman for GNA forces, Mustafa al-Mejii, dozens of LNA fighters under Haftar were killed, while at least 18 were taken prisoner. In March 2020, UN-backed government of Fayez Al-Sarraj commenced Operation Peace Storm. The government initiated the bid in response to the state of assaults carried by Haftar’s LNA.
“We are a legitimate, civilian government that respects its obligations to the international community, but is committed primarily to its people and has an obligation to protect its citizens,” Sarraj said in line with his decision.
Libya is underlain by basement rocks of Precambrian age (from about 4 billion to 540 million years ago) mantled with marine and wind-borne deposits. The major physical features are the Nafūsah Plateau and the Al-Jifāfrah (Gefara) Plain in the northwest, the Akhḍar Mountains (“Green Mountains”) in the northeast, and the Saharan plateau, which occupies much of the rest of the country.
The Al-Jifārah Plain covers about 10,000 square miles of Libya’s northwestern corner. It rises from sea level to about 1,000 feet at the foothills of the Nafūsah Plateau. Composed of sand dunes, salt marshes, and steppe, the plain is home to most of Libya’s population and to its largest city, Tripoli. The Nafūsah Plateau is a limestone massif that stretches for about 212 miles to Al-Khums on the coast to the Tunisian border at Nālūt. West of Tarhūnah, it rises steeply from the Al-Jifārah Plain, reaching elevations between 1,500 and 3,200 feet.
In northeastern Libya, the Akhḍar Mountains stretch along the coast between Al-Marj and Derna. These limestone mountains rise steeply from the coast to about 2,000 feet and then stretch about 20 miles inland, reaching nearly 3,000 feet at their highest points. The Saharan plateau makes up about 90 percent of Libya. About half of the plateau is sand desert, making it truly a sea of sand. Al-Harūj al-Aswad is a hilly basaltic plateau in central Libya. Covered with angular stone fragments and boulders, it rises to about 2,600 feet and is crowned by volcanic peaks. Al-Ḥamrāʾ Plateau lies south of the Nafūsah Plateau. It reveals bare rock outcroppings that rise to 2,700 feet In the Fezzan region in the southwest, a series of long depressions and basins contain wadis (dry riverbeds) and oasis settlements.
Sand dunes that reach heights of 300 feet are found in the Fezzan’s Marzūq desert and in the eastern Libyan Desert, which extends into Egypt. The country’s highest elevations are Bīkkū Bīttī peak (Picco Bette), which rises to 7,436 feet on the Libya-Chad border, and Mount Al-Uwaynāt, with an elevation of 6,345 feet on the Libya-Sudan-Egypt border.
There are no permanent rivers in Libya. The numerous wadis that drain the uplands are filled by flash floods during the rains but then quickly dry up or are reduced to a trickle. The largest wadi systems are the Wadi Zamzam and Wadi Bayy al-Kabīr, both of which empty into the sea on the western coast of the Gulf of Sidra. Other large wadis drain the interior basins of Sirte, Zelten, and the Fezzan.
There is also an extensive reserve of underground water. Numerous oases are watered by wells and springs, and artesian wells tap large deep aquifers in the Fezzan and southeastern Libya. The Great Man-Made River was one of the more ambitious projects in history designed to make use of these underground reserves. The project utilizes a pipeline system to pump water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer from southern Libya to cities in the populous Libyan northern Mediterranean coast, home to Tripoli and Benghazi. The water provides 70 percent of the freshwater supply in Libya.
Along the coastal strip are several salt flats or sebkhas, formed by the ponding and evaporation of water behind coastal dunes. Principal salt flats are found at Tāwurghāʾ, at Zuwarah, and on the Benghazi Plain.
The gray-brown soils of the Al-Jifārah Plain and the Nafūsah Plateau in western Libya are fertile, although excess irrigation has led to increased soil salination. In the east the soil of the Barce plain—which expands from the Akhḍar Mountains to the sea—are light and fertile. Rich alluvial soils are found in the coastal deltas and valleys of large wadis. On the margins of the Sahara, cultivation and overgrazing have seriously depleted the soil. The rest of the country is covered by sand and desert. The soils in these areas are poorly developed, with little organic material.
Climate of Libya
Libya’s climate is dominated by the hot arid Sahara, but it is moderated along the coastal littoral by the Mediter- ranean Sea. The Saharan influence is strongest during the summer months of July and August. From October to March, prevailing westerly winds bring cyclonic storms and rains across northern Libya. A narrow band of semiarid steppe extends inland from the Mediterranean climate of the Al-Jifārah Plain, the Nafūsah Plateau, and the Akhḍar Mountains. The desert climate of the Sahara reaches the coast along the southern fringes of the Gulf of Sidra, where Al-Ḥamrāyah (Sirte) Desert borders the sea. Periodic droughts, often lasting several years, are common in the steppe and desert.
Inland from the coast, annual precipitation declines, and its variability increases. Most rain falls in a few days between November and January. Less than 4 inches of rain falls annually in the steppes, and Saharan zones receive less than 1 inch. In the Sahara, 200 consecutive rainless days in a year have been recorded, and the world’s highest degree of aridity has been recorded at Sabhā, which averages 0.4 inch of precipitation annually.
The dry climate is exacerbated by the ghibli, a hot arid wind that blows from the south over the entire country several times a year. It is usually preceded by a short lull in the prevailing winds, followed by the full force of the ghibli. The wind carries large quantities of sand dust, which turns the sky red and reduces visibility to less than 60 feet. The heat of the wind is increased by a rapid drop of relative humidity, which can fall dramatically within hours.
Plants and wildlife
In years of ample precipitation, the coastal plains are covered with herbaceous vegetation and grasses. The most noticeable plants are the asphodel (an herb of the lily family) and jubule. The northern area of the Akhḍar Moun- tains—where the influence of the Mediterranean is most dominant—supports low and relatively dense forest (or maquis) of juniper and lentisc. Annual plants are abundant and include brome grass, canary grass, bluegrass, and rye grass. The forest becomes scattered and stunted south of the mountain crest, and annual plants are scarcer.
In the semiarid steppes, vegetation is also sparse, characterized by pockets of isolated drought-resistant plants. The most commonly found species are saltwort (a plant used in making soda ash) and spurge flax (a shrub) while goosefoot, wormwood, and asphodel also are widespread.
Wildlife include Barbary lions, North African cheetahs, hyenas, caracals, jackals, fennec foxes and red foxes, skunks; gazelles, desert hare and the jerboas. The poisonous puff adder and krait are among reptiles that inhabit scattered oases. Avians include eagles, hawks, vultures, ringdoves, partridges, larks, and prairie hens.
In August 2011 it was estimated that it would take at least 10 years to rebuild Libya's infrastructure. Even before the 2011 war, Libya's infrastructure was in a poor state due to neglect by the Gaddafi's administration, according to the NTC. By October 2012, the economy had recovered from the 2011 conflict, with oil production returning to near normal levels. Oil production was more than 1.6 million barrels per day before the war. By October 2012, the average daily oil production had surpassed 1.4 million barrels. The resumption of production was made possible due to the quick return of major Western companies like Total, Eni, Repsol, Wintershall, and Occidental.
Libya is a large country with a relatively small population of 7.1 million, according to Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data, 27.7 person of whom are under the age of 15. Ninety percent of Libyans live in less than 10 percent of the country, primarily along the coast. About 88 percent of the population is urban, mostly concentrated in the three largest cities—Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.
The original inhabitants of Libya were Berber ethnic groups. However, numerous invasions and migrations—particularly by Arabs and Turks—have left a profound and lasting linguistic and cultural imprint. Today, the great majority of Libya's inhabitants are Arabic-speaking Muslims of mixed descent, with many claiming ancestral tracing to Bedouin Arab tribes like Banu Sulaym, and Banu Hilal. The Turkish minority are often called "Kouloughlis" and are concentrated in and around small villages and towns. Additionally, there are some Libyan ethnic minorities, such as the Tuareg and the Tebou.
Italian settlers at their height numbered over half a million, but declined after Libya's independence in 1947. More repatriated in 1970 after the ascension of Muammar Gaddafi, but a few hundred of them returned in the 2000s.
The local Libyan Arabic variety is spoken alongside Modern Standard Arabic. Various Berber languages are also spoken, including Tamasheq, Ghadamis, Nafusi, Suknah and Awjilah. The Libyan Amazigh High Council (LAHC) has declared the Amazigh (Berber or Tamazight) language as an official language in the cities and districts inhabited by the Berbers in Libya. In addition, English is widely understood in the major cities while the former colonial language Italian is also used in commerce and by the Italian population in Libya.
Historically, the area of Libya was considered three provinces (or states), Tripolitania in the northwest, Barka (Cyrenaica) in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest. It was the conquest by Italy in the Italo-Turkish War that united them in a single political unit. Since 2007, Libya has been divided into 22 districts (Shabiyat).
About 97 percent of the population in Libya are Muslims, most of whom belong to the Sunni branch. Small numbers of Ibadi Muslims also live in the country. Before the 1930s, the Senussi Sunni Sufi movement was the primary Islamic movement in Libya. This was a religious revival adapted to desert life. Its zawaaya (lodges) were found in Tripolitania and Fezzan, but Senussi influence was strongest in Cyrenaica. Rescuing the region from unrest and anarchy, the Senussi movement gave the Cyrenaican tribal people a religious attachment and feelings of unity and purpose. Gaddafi asserted that he was a devout Muslim, and his government was taking a role in supporting Islamic institutions and in worldwide proselytizing on behalf of Islam.
There are small foreign communities of Christians. Coptic Orthodox Christianity, which is the Christian Church of Egypt, is the largest and most historical Christian denomination in Libya. There are about 60,000 Egyptian Copts in Libya. The Coptic Church has grown in recent years in Libya, due to the growing immigration of Egyptian Copts to Libya.
There are an estimated 40,000 Roman Catholics in Libya who are served by two Bishops, one in Tripoli (serving the Italian community) and one in Benghazi (serving the Maltese community). There is also a small Angelican community, made up mostly of African immigrant workers in Tripoli. It is part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.
Libya’s armed forces include an army, a navy, and an air force. After the 1970s Libya purchased arms from the Soviet Union and other communist states. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, military expenditures and arms imports declined. Although Libya had long provided a base and support for foreign militant organizations, by the late 1990s Qaddafi’s policies began to shift. In 2003 he formally renounced terrorism as part of a broader effort to bring the country back into the global community.
Internally, however, Qaddafi created a variety of military and quasi-military organizations over the years that reinforced his authority within the country. Initially important were the People’s Militia and the Revolutionary Committees, created in 1974 and 1977, respectively. Qaddafi subsequently invested substantial wealth and effort into creating more personal security organizations, such as the Intelligence Bureau of the Leader, the Military Secret Service, the Jamāhīriyyah Security Organization, the Revolutionary Guards, and the People’s Guard.
Throughout his rule, Qaddafi relied on other informal groups to maintain stability and to protect himself and his interests. After the deposal of Qaddafi, the tasks of ensuring security and keeping order fell to a patchwork of regional and tribal militias that emerged in Libya during the 2011 uprising and its aftermath. Those militias, even the ones nominally aligned with the transitional government, refused to be blended into a national force or to submit to centralized authority. Violent clashes between rival militias were commonplace.
Health and welfare
The chief health problems are typhoid, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, and schistosomiasis (a parasitic infestation of the liver or intestines). The incidence of malaria has declined, but gastroenteritis and tetanus remain major diseases. Health care is provided by a mixture of public and private services. Most care is available in hospitals and at outpatient or specialized-care facilities or clinics. Schools for medicine and dentistry opened in the 1970s, but the rapid expansion of facilities necessitated the continued hiring of expatriate staff. The number of medical personnel has been sharply increased. Some graduate medical students study abroad. Libya’s six-month civil war in 2011 and the insecurity that followed strained the country’s health and social services, leaving many Libyans without adequate access to medical care.
Public education is free, although insecurity since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011 has caused disruptions to schools and universities in many areas of the country. Arabic is the language of instruction at all levels. The school system is composed of a six-year primary level, a three-year intermediate and vocational level, and a three-year secondary and advanced vocational level. There are also Qurʾānic schools, financed by the government. About 80 percent of the adult population is literate. In order to increase the literacy rate, the government also sponsored an adult educational program.
Higher education is offered by the state institutions of the University of Libya, subdivided in 1973 into Al-Fāteḥ University, located at Tripoli, and Garyounis (Qāryūnis) University, located at Benghazi. Advanced religious training is obtained at a branch of the university at Al-Bayḍāʾ. Libyan students also study abroad.
Family life is important for Libyan families, the majority of which live in apartment blocks and other independent housing units, with precise modes of housing depending on their income and wealth. Although the Arab Libyans traditionally lived nomadic lifestyles in tents, they have now settled in various towns and cities. Because of this, their old ways of life are gradually fading out. An unknown small number of Libyans still live in the desert as their families have done for centuries. Most of the population has occupations in industry and services, and a small percentage works in agriculture.
Libyan culture highlights folk art and traditions, which are highly influenced by Islam. The arts of weaving, embroidery, metal engraving, and leatherwork rarely depict people or animals because of the traditional Islamic prohibition against such representations. The dominant geometric and arabesque designs are best presented in the stucco and tiles of the Karamanli and Gurgi mosques of Tripoli. Other traditions include festivals, horse races, and folk dances.
Nonreligious literature has developed largely since the 1960s; nationalistic in character, it nonetheless reveals Egyptian influences. The arts are supported by the government through the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education and National Guidance, and the Al-Fikr Society, a group of intellectuals and professionals.
Sports and recreation
Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Libya. The top national league includes a number of teams, and Tripoli and Benghazi are each home to several clubs. Al-Ahlī of Tripoli has won numerous league titles since the 1960s. Racing is very popular in Libya. Horse racing is a traditional part of many holiday celebrations, and automobile racing also has a strong following. Tripoli was once a stop on the Grand Prix tour; the 1933 race became infamous when several drivers conspired to fix it. Libyans also enjoy tennis, and water sports are gaining popularity on the coast. Libya made its Olympic debut at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
Media and publishing
The government controls broadcasting and the press. Newspapers and periodicals are published by the Jamahiriya News Agency (JANA), government secretariats, the Press Service, and trade unions. JANA publishes Al-Fajr al-Jadīd (“New Dawn”) in Tripoli. Daily newspapers include Al-Shams (“The Sun”) and Al-Zaḥf al-Akhḍar (“The Green March”). Radio broadcasts from Tripoli and Benghazi are in Arabic and English; the national television service broadcasts in Arabic, with limited hours in English, Italian, and French. Several publishers of general and academic books are located in Tripoli.
Libyan cuisine is a mixture of Italian, Bedouin and traditional Arab culinary influences. Pasta is the staple food in Western side of Libya and rice is the staple food in the east. Common Libyan foods include several variations of tomato sauce based pasta dishes (similar to the Italian Sugo all'arrabbiata rice, served with stewed lamb or chicken, in tomato sauce; and steamed couscous with zucchini and chickpeas, served with cucumber slices, lettuce, and olives.
Bazeen, a dish made from barley flour and served with red tomato sauce, is customarily eaten communally by hand. This dish is commonly served at traditional weddings or festivities. Asida is a sweet version of Bazeen, made from white flour and served with a mix of honey, ghee or butter. Another favorite way to serve Asida is with fresh date syrup and olive oil. Usban is animal tripe stitched and stuffed with rice and vegetables cooked in tomato based soup or steamed. Shurba is a red tomato sauce-based soup, usually served with pasta.
A very common snack eaten by Libyans is known as khubs bi' tun, bread with tuna fish, served as a baked baguette or pita bread stuffed with tuna fish that has been mixed with harissa (chili sauce) and olive oil. Many snack vendors prepare these sandwiches and they can be found all over Libya. Libyan restaurants serve international cuisine or may serve simpler fare such as lamb, chicken, vegetable stew, potatoes and macaroni. Due to severe lack of infrastructure, many under-developed areas and small towns do not have restaurants and instead food stores may be the only source to obtain food products.
There are four main traditional Libyan foods—olives, olive oil, dates, grains, and milk. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, and bazeen. Dates are harvested, dried and can be eaten as they are, made into syrup or slightly fried and eaten with bsisa and milk. After eating, Libyans often drink black tea. Alcohol consumption is illegal in the nation.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / penned in concert with Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License