Working and Traveling in Libya 2014
In March 2014, Ronin performed a reconnaissance for business development in Libya. We met with 8 potential clients as well as reviewed the security and travel situation in country. We traveled through Tripoli and Misrata. Below are some of the lessons were learned about the region along the way…
The partner company Ronin works with (POIL) ensured that the visa documentation was sent to the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa. Ronin uses a document courier service in Ottawa to ensure the passports of our staff reach the correct destinations. The entire visa process was painless and our staff’s passports were returned within 4 days.
Ideally, fit, security savvy, well-traveled, robust staff members – capable of resourcefulness, self-preservation and patience should be deployed.
Our staff are well traveled and have their usual vaccinations (MMR, DPT, HEP A/B, Yellow Fever) up to date. No other vaccinations were required. We find Dukoral is always necessary for Cholera and gastro-ailments.
The Government of Canada currently lists Libya as Avoid Non Essential Travel. The security threat in the East of the country is worse, and the Government of Canada advises against any travel to many cites in Libya. These threat levels are based on both the frequency of such attacks and that the situation there is very fluid. The airport for instance was rocketed twice during our stay, resulting in major European airlines cancelling all flights. Turkish, Air Malta, Air Egypt, Air Jordan and Air Tunis were all still flying in the country.
Being personally armed as a foreigner is illegal and would likely further endanger the carrier. Militia groups carry out almost all the attacks. For the most part (in the west of the country) it appears Westerners are not their targets. The Militias are in most cases larger and better-armed then government soldiers. Armed checkpoints staffed by Militias were observed on major routes. We experienced no problems at these check points.
While the above information seems contrary – I found the country felt relatively safe. The local people are friendly and want to conduct business. They seem to genuinely appreciate the efforts made to meet with them. I have certainly traveled to worse places. As a comparison I felt the security situation in Libya was better then Trinidad (2008), Afghanistan (2011) and El Salvador (2014)
Arriving at the airport is usual for such locations. Custom lines were not onerous and it was only slightly chaotic as you left the “secure” area. Leaving was more entertaining. Our flight was an added flight by Air Malta as the BA, Lufthansa and Air France flights were all cancelled. Our flight was not listed on the display and if you did not understand some Arabic, missing the flight was a possibility.
Ground moves were safe by day or night in Tripoli. Fuel stations are always lined up, however the fuel is cheap to purchase. The trip to Misrata took close to 3 hours; with one Militia checkpoint and plenty of war damaged vehicles lining the road to capture the attention. No bribes were required at the checkpoint. The drive to Egypt is apparently a nightmare and the border with Tunisia was closed. Self-driving would be a death-wish while motorcycling would be outright determined suicide. I would estimate you would be more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident then in a gun battle.
Dress for meetings in Libya is suit and tie. A handshake with a ‘Salaam alaikum’ was the standard greeting. After the business day was concluded, pants (jeans) and a shirt are recommended. It is still a Muslim country and some recognition of the local culture and norms goes a long way. Rogers phones did not pick up data, however I could text and talk. Internet is sketchy with outages occurring regularly during the day.
There are plenty of new European vehicles in Libya. I am sure all were damaged from accidents (both minor and major). Libyans park anywhere and traffic lights are a suggestion only.
The land border with Egypt is apparently a nightmare. The land border with Tunisia was closed while we were in country. Good luck trying for a southern border….
This border situation would certainly frustrate E&E attempts.
Consider a local cell phone and a small med-kit (pressure dressings, quick clot, re-hydrate, ciproflaxin etc.). Also consider sunscreen.
Arabic is the main language in Libya. Being able to speak some local language (as anywhere) certainly helps with the local population. Finding someone who spoke English was not very difficult however.
With regard to timings: it is difficult to meet any timing due to the traffic. All of the locals understand this however and tardiness is almost expected.
The Libyans we encountered were all pleasant and friendly. They want Western business in their country. I found them to be honest – I was forcefully given change twice by a cabby. The food was great and most amenities were available.
Tribalism is alive and well. Everyone knows who you are based on name – and you are treated accordingly. If ‘the balloon goes up’ everyone has a side and its not yours.
It is possible to reduce the risk of incidents, but not completely.
Making it to either the embassy or the ambassadors residence would be the best option regarding E&E attempts. It appears there is a platoon of Canadian Soldiers in country and your best bet for assistance would be there should the lid boil off the pot.
Hopefully you can learn from some of our experiences or simply ask us to help you out!
Quite an adventure!