In the swanky conference rooms of the Ritz Carlton Doha, a conclave of tribal leaders and would-be government officials pledged allegiance to the future ‘Free Libya.’ It would be just weeks away, they told me, as NATO strikes and diplomatic swings to the rebel camp erode Muammar Qaddafi’s remaining powers.
With the demise of Qaddafi close, their ‘rebel’ government – a buttoned up group of technocrats known as the Transitional National Council – could come into $165 billion in global assets ($33 billion of frozen in the US alone). But for now they’re like heirs waiting for a very rich, very evil uncle to die. They say they’re short on cash, none of the pledged aid dollars or oil revenues hitting their coffers.
‘We are not broke. We are rich in theory…it’s just completely frozen,’ said Ahmed El Sherif, the Central Bank Governer-designate. He spoke exclusively to Bloomberg Television about the finances behind the fight, he and other opposition leaders begging the international community to move faster on promises to unlock Qaddafi’s bank accounts. Other opposition officials said the ask was something less, that the US at least let them borrow against that pile of wealth.
I asked Sherif if his piggy bank was completely empty, if he’s a Central Banker with nothing in the bank. He said that as a baseline, they found $1 billion of bullion in Benghazi dating from 1964 – a stash in that branch of the Central Bank, from the days of the gold standard and the Libyan monarchy. That leaves a $2 billion shortfall in the operating budget the TNC has set out for the next six months.
More optimistically, Sherif sketched out his plans for Libya’s future economy – broad stimulus spending on reconstruction and social services, a business-friendly approach to welcoming Western companies. As for the Libyan Investment Authority, a $70 billion sovereign wealth fund with stakes in UniCredit, Juventus, and Pearson, he sees it staying intact, but plans to cull its assets.
‘It’s not something we can just demolish. These investments is scattered all over the world,’ said Sherif.
‘But some of these projects are not economically feasible…they were just projects [to curry] political favour.’ Sherif’s proposed divestment would mean a eco-strategic realignment – under the Qaddafi regime, cash grants and major investments were guided by geopolitics, a way to build favour and wield clout across Africa.
All of those plans hinge on Qaddafi leaving power, an event that US and NATO leaders see as inevitable, soon. The TNC says the stalemate is broken, that they’ve seized the momentum, feel victory on the brink. But with fighting past the three month mark, the four-decade dictator has been characteristically stubborn in hanging on.
What to watch for as the fight potentially breaks? It’s worth keeping tabs on the trigger – when if and when Qaddafi falls, analysts expect the price of oil to precipitously drop.
‘The main factor will be Tripoli, of course,’ said Mohamad Al Akari, a suave member of the Transitional National Council and the head of an opposition channel, Libya TV.
‘Our people in Tripoli they are moving very fast…they are reorganising themselves. We have a very, very serious number of cells within Tripoli, very highly educated people – MBAs, Master’s degrees – those people are used to come out in the protesting against Qaddafi in the last two months.’
From a rebellion led by MBAs, to a sort-of government led by technocrats, the great political unknown over what comes next in Libya has begun to have its blueprints. If you want to trade on the future ‘Free Libya,’ it’s time to start watching this space.