The saga to appoint a new head of the UN Support Mission in Libya has taken another twist this week. The proposal to appoint Senagalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bitali as the Secretary’s General’s Special Representative has been rejected by the government in Tripoli. After nine UN envoys in the past ten years, they are seeking a serious heavyweight, who can mediate between the two political authorities in Tobruk and Tripoli and deliver the presidential election that was postponed last December.
Unfortunately, this entanglement in New York is unlikely to be solved while the war in Ukraine continues. Moscow still backs Khalifa Haftar, who controls the Libyan Army in Cyrenaica and is aligned with the Tobruk House of Representatives. The USA will not allow them to take over the whole country, but neither is it in a position to help militarily. Turkey is the main provider of security assistance in Tripolitania, but it is not doing enough to support disarmament and the humanitarian agenda.
France and Italy would like to take the lead, but their history in North Africa provides a stumbling block. Egypt and OPEC countries are seen as rivals and active competitors. The only country that has a proven track record of long-term diplomatic support and friendship (when Libya was a very poor country) is Britain. It is time that London provided another strong nomination for the UNSMIL lead.