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Libyan Writer Ghoma

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Saturday, 9 December, 2006

Turn-key Projects + Import Substitution → More Passive Consumers?

By: Ghoma

"I have finally understood that nothing can be changed by proving that the life
 we lead is some one else's dream."   Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book

        Almost no day passes by without bringing some new announcements about this company or that contractor have gotten a deal or landed a project in Libya: to prospect for oil, to build a power plant or to erect a housing complex, mend a road, lay a railway line, inground a sewage system or find, filter, and supply water and its distribution networks, etc. The country's map has been turned into a numbered grid and was put on the auction block for black -gold rushers to grab! Once again Libya is becoming a frontier bonanza for those who raise enough money to venture with. Some of the projects respond to badly felt needs that have been long neglected or in waiting, many others were purely induced by the surfeit of the petro-dollars, and/or to create the right environment for international investors to come knocking on the door, for instance, computerization of the country's education system, cell-phone and satellite communication networks, etc. The question is, how to make the quantum leap and stay within what an Italian cautious saying warns against: if you make the step longer than the leg you may end up tripping: that's, upstanding the existing economic practice -by privatizing it- reaching out to the global market with yet a fragmentary social base, families, tribes, clans within a tradition-Religious bound culture in the age of a globalized world and all it entails: post-industrial and post-modern technology? Walking on a different drum, indeed! There's a huge lacuna and a wide disconnect between the expressed needs or dreamed of aspirations, perhaps not with the ability to buy them, but with the capabilities to understand them, realize them, and live with and maintain them. Is it reasonable for development to be approached from the right side of the equation, the byproduct or result: the consumeristic and passive sides? In other words can a failed model, that's, the traditional mentality of the Middle Eastern bazaarist type of hustlers, quick-money handlers and brief-case (Samsonite) merchants be depended on to usher the area into a new dawn and a new way of Life? Aren't they instead of buying a product, in fact, they're buying nothing else than the dreams and hardwork of others?

        Needs have to be met. Not necessarily at one time or in one generation. Then the problem becomes which ones and how to choose among them. The point here is not to argue with Abraham Maslow -and his hierarchy of human needs- but rather to argue against the rate and scale of generation of these needs and the way(s) to meet them. Experience has shown brooding consumers wouldn't necessarily result in creating producers. How to accumulate capital and in the same time meet the ever increasing consumer demands? It boils down to ask until when the lopsided situation, of importing needs as well as their solutions, endures; that's, of always rising and pressing needs but no equivalent ability -in terms of know-how and skills- to meet them. Where the heck the close to 6-million Libyans and their 1-to-2 million guest workers are? Why after almost 5-decades of oil-wealth and as long of the local and foreign higher education's graduations the country is still a basket case of local experts and expertise, companies, and skilled workers? Has the "Jamahiryia" been spawning only false political pundits, hallucinating mavericks or delusioned charlatans? And what has happened to all the engineers, architects, economists, scientists, and planners? Are they all still scratching their behinds and pushing paper?

        We all are familiar with a company's getting in trouble, its gears got clogged as if it ran out steam and lost what it was all about, its main mission; then it hires someone, like Michael Porter, to diagnose its ills, where and what went wrong, and advise a cure to get her back on its feet, if not in shape. It's also a familiar scene to see undergraduate students knocking on the doors of their advisors asking for help to make up their minds and find or decide a major. Graduate students are not immune from the disease of being oblivious, hesitant or only confused either, many of them would have trouble finding a topic to write a thesis on or to pursue a dissertation in, etc. All these cases are a familiar occurrences in the wear-and-tear flow of time and events. The chances of a company coming back to when was run by the burning fires of its founders and prospers again are indeed slim. The same with expecting brilliant discovers or high achievements from students who weren't or couldn't find their ways to vocations in life easily. The same can be said about nations and states! Imagine a country running out of ideas on how to go ahead, how to survive. Not to "cover the sun with a sieve," indeed there are an abundance of them in the duds and brain-deads of 3-World Banana Republics. But great nations rarely let themselves down this far down -someone will step up to the plate, to the fore, and come up with a bitter yet brilliant pill to rescue the patient. China's Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, India's Gandhi and Nehru, or the leaders of 19th-century's Japan, 20th-century's Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, etc. hadn't waited for the hired experts to tell them how to start the "long march" to liberation and development. These leaders were the un-hired M.. Porters of their times, they'd lived the realities of their countries, diagnosed the ills of their societies and came up with a short-cut to get them out of the jams in which they were caught. They talked the talk and walked the walk, as they say; slugged it out themselves inch-by-inch day-in-day-out until after 2 to 3-generations later and with all the heavy lifting and due sacrifices in between, with all the grim realities they went through and endured, those seeds they'd planted awhile ago have started sprouting, popping up above the surface and the fruits of those choices are soon to be collected.

        None of the equally brain-parched as their landscapes of the crop of Arab leaders or intellectuals so far had shown any stamina, the patience, the foresight, or the wisdom to devise a way for their people to get off their entrapments and start marching with the time's tunes. The area seems to breed only the meanest, cruelest and maniacal egotistics slobs enough to doubt God's abilities of controlling what His designs were capable of turning out. Far from the self-chosen labels of leaders and statesmen they were merely bumptious chieftains and flat out thugs more akin to highwaymen and midday robbers than true leaders and statesmen. Their blatant ignorance, corruption, and amateurishness made the Arabs the butt-joke of humanity. For instance, Qaddafi, after a short stint of what he called "revolution" had turned into a crusader for solving humanity's problems, only to abandon both and embarked on being a "leader" of this group of losers, or a "guidance" to that bunch of do-no-good bootlickers, et cetera. And 37-years later he's hired a consulting firm to tell him what to do about the economy! Who's supposed to know more -not to say better- about the Libyan economy, the one who's supposed to have invented it, or the guy who only has looked into a bunch of raw data, interviewed few yes-men and made a conclusion? Someone must have mentioned to Porter the Libya saying: "Whoever gives you a rope (a string) and asks you to tie him up, do it without questions". So one can only imagine how the internal confabulations in the firm must have gone: this place is a real mess, a basket case, nothing is ever going to work as long as this guy and his goonies are still hanging around, so give them what they crave for: a propaganda tool as a goal for their 50th fiascos and "let the hay (straw) covering its barley" -they must have googled Libyan proverbs and found this one on their own! It doesn't take much to prove that self-appointed gurus with likewise their self-described jobs, without any accounting for, are only myths out of One Thousand and One Night caliber fairy tales.

        Development, in its essence, is a self-generated dream(s) of generations and a yearning through the ages, for the good life. It's never came as a finished product or a package delivered on a silver plate in whichever manner a state, a country or a nation could afford to, it's a long and arduous process, first of upheavals, revolutions, and consensus gathering; and second, of wracking brains, scratching pates, and learning by trial and error how to do things the right way. Nations, like the individuals composing them, learn in the old fashioned way, by hands-on type of drilling. Only by making mistakes and correcting them, tripping few times over one's face, like a toddler learning to walk, and raising oneself again and again, and again to pursue the same activity, can a durable learning engraves itself on the minds, hands, and consciousness of a nation, a region, or just a group.

        It's been said that theater is a school to raise human consciousness and imparts some learning. But there's a wide difference between watching a performance, a game and involving oneself in the action of dirtying one's hands and muddying of one's clothes! As there's a wide difference between the performer and his/her audience, there's the same almost distance if not more, between passive consumers and makers and builders of the products they consume. Actually, the analogy gets even murkier when one reflects that usually there's a congruity and a contextual correspondence between performers and their audiences which do not exist between the hopping multi-nationals and their clients! Hiring a company to build, for instance, a power plant, with all the clauses and cautions in the contract to train some locals to run it, maintain it, etc., remains like one buying a car from a dealer and the salesman/woman instructing him/her about all the ins and outs of the car, it's neither to make of him/her a mechanic nor to better driver, still one needs to take the car back to the dealer every time there's something wrong or senses some trouble coming. The dealer's job, in addition, to selling, is also to tie the client to his establishment. Thus, as buyers everywhere remain beholden to their suppliers and providers, contracting a development only increases the level of passivity, dependency, and further slippage into the morass of having problems beyond one's comprehension and stage of development.

        It's true we live in a world where diffusion works like contagion, through contact. How to approach the contact and regulate its flow is of the gist of the matter. To open the flood-gates all the way one risks being swept by the deluge. One can say the rampant epidemic of modern problems in the remote corners of the globe are only the tip of the ice-burg of the artificially induced always rising expectations. A quick notice will show there're more and more of the post-industrial type of problems, diseases, aspirations, weariness, etc. in societies in the heart of Africa and the rest of the parasitic so-called 3-World. These problems in order to face them and deal with them require a high level of sophistication and learning than is usually available in those forsaken lands of despair and desperados! How these societies have gotten there? By starting from the wrong side of the equation, grabbing the opposite side of the stick, so to speak, type of thing. Instead of assessing and recognizing themselves and their societies's capabilities -know thyself!- and start from there by doing what they could slowly but patiently and persistently, increasing their level of participation and input every time a new project is embarked on or a new facility is built; their "leaders," in the usual dictatorial and backward traditions, of ruling by numbers and show pieces, contracted a foreign company to deliver the goods and then leave. The result as we all see is, on par, with the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer, the developed gets further sophisticated and the underdeveloped gets further backwarder. The Arab World holds the record in this contest! Even with the show-pieces of the capitalist-peddlers and the comprador hawkers of the Gulf's gaudy-bawdy impressiveness, they look more constructs out of the of 1001-Nights magic than glistening sparkling towers and plentiful shopping-malls of an energetic and prosperous society of the go. No, these pastiches don't evoke development only a Ali Baba's on magic carpet plummeting, from the sky over night, ideas and products of another world on the desert floor, than an organic outcrop of local ingenuity and craftiness.

        Libya, after a hiatus of 2-decades, is embarking once again! on making the same mistakes which it did in the '60's and '70's of the last century when it called on companies from the four corners of the globe to come and build the desert into some sort of reduced and ugly versions of Las Vegas, without of course, the vim and exuberance associated with this latter. They came, they built, and they left. An expensive pastiches and a bad copy of the worst eclectic scraps of 1st World's junk products strewn in across the desert. Slums upon slums, boxes on top of boxes, dusted facility upon dirty and broken thingamajig. Just give a look to any areal shot to some aggregates they call cities in that part of the world, and realize what monstrous they've built or allowed to accrue in the last half-century or so! Far from building live cities and vibrant agglomerations, they built a virtual dead-cities in the middle of likewise dead landscapes-fit only for rats!- and now perhaps are trying to figure out how to revive them to life, how to make them livable, how to give them some human face and humanize their residents, etc. How to give live to still-born monster! Things and conditions no doctor has so far been trained to do, most of all an outsider, and least a techy can do anything about them unless those who live in these places take things in their own hands and decide what they want to do with them: either bury them or if to live in them then according to what model of life. Only when those in the fire feel its searing heat can they be able to jump out of it and be expected to quench it.

        It's possible, and all indications point to it, to spend other 3-4 decades of the remaining oil wealth, in the same manner in which the last 5-6 decades had seen. That's being a mere pawn in the hands of the petr-dollars hunters and recycling crews. Torn between false premises and showy baubles, Libya will only add more of the short cut life trinkets than permanent and lasting citadels for progress. Entering the arena of international market, where dog eats dog, without having done years of behind the scenes preparations is an iffy, if not flat right wrong. None of the countries who've just joined the fray had gone the way Libya is doing it. It may take one or two generations of qualitatively smart alecks to understand how and in what manner to deal with world and its business environment.

        To the ground the discussion and put some beef in the chow, here are some areas the whole Arab World, and indeed Libya in particular, can fix it rudder on and be its polestar. These seeds should give something to base its medium and long distance's strategies, and to frame its economic and education systems:

        1- Hydrology: from milking water, to using it, and to recycling it.

        2- Sun-energy harnessing.

        3- Desert reclamation: Inch by inch, meter-after-meter...

        4- Acquire know-how of the oil-and gas and indigenize its technology: from
             prospecting to processing and refining.

        Of course, the concentration on these areas wouldn't exclude, on the side, in the short-run, to build hotels and encourage tourism and local crafts and craftsmen. The tourism business must be taken with a grain of salt so to speak! Whether those recommended it or those enthusiastic lazybones mimicking others' success, in this area, are betting on cliches and hedging on the stereotype. Tourism has way to go before any guarantee for one's own success can be glimpsed. Libyan culture and its handicrafts, historically, were neither resilient enough to tolerate nor hospitable to the propositions mass-tourism demands and entails. A revolution in the way people see the world and interact with it has to occur for Libya to become a tourist destination for crack-pot weary workers and honeymoon escapees.

        If Libya wants and decides to embark on the journey towards taking-off stage, it's to buckle up and to start using its brains to figure out where to begin and how to go about it. Any process of development is a multi-generational and as such is subject to the usual false steps and fits and starts cycles, but it's to be from the bottom up. While no nations can give up on any generation, certainly the existing one is always in the realm of iffy, too late, however, with that in mind the start must be from the ground up: the new generations and from day one! The efforts must begin by addressing public education, from kinder-garden to college, and setting them on a new footings, new premises, and new horizons, out of which a serious attempt to change could be sensed. New methodologies to teach enhanced by new school designs, and a campaign to educate parents to be an integral part of the "new libicus"! The essence of these strategies is to abandon the rote-religious bound learning and on to analytical, critical, and reason oriented humans. Problem-solving, creativity and innovation are on driver's seat. A strong sciences and technology curricula complemented by likewise strong humanities and social sciences programs, are a must. Their contents have to be worked out as the experience advances. The long-term strategies and goals have to be agreed upon and worked out before hand. For instance, Libya, and indeed the whole Arab lands, has plenty of desert, sun, oil & gas, and lack of water and good soil. Thus, the curricula have to concentrate on the ways and means of exploiting the available resources -oil & gas- to generate alternatives to them. How to harness the sun's energy and how to produce for local consumption and export. How to develop new techniques and technologies to milk water from the desert. An idea, for example, why not Bring salty water to desert for evaporation and find a way to condensate it and pipe it to where it's needed! Another: reclaiming the desert inch by inch, as the Dutch did in reclaiming their country from the sea, inch by inch, would increase the available land for human use. It may be sound far-fetched but is in the realm of the possible to partner with Europe for their waste to reclaim the desert: they've plenty of waste and little land and we've plenty of scrub lands in need for organic material to give them the needed fertility! This's a good idea I believe worth pursuing to reclaim the desert a bit a time. Transfer some if not all of the organic garbage, trash, and treated sewage byproducts of Europe, since their landfills are getting saturated -charging them for the service- into the desert. With some new or even the existing techniques of using the geological water below the desert to moisture this refuse and composting it into a organic glob capable of holding the grains of sand together, in relatively short period of time that strip of desert will be stabilized and with sands turning into humus good for agriculture and pasturing. Not only scientists, technologists and researchers have to be involved but every capable Libyan have to get into the campaign to plant and guard a tree where the experiment is going and indeed in the strips behind to create the barriers that would protect the target zone, and indeed the rest of the settlements from the sandy storms....

        With all the heat generated by the sun in the Great Desert if a way can be find to how to harvest it, package it, and put it to use then the country will have tapped into unending treasure that never ends as long as the earth keeps spinning and the sun keeps shining. It can supply, perhaps, the entire planet with clean and renewable source of pure juice!

        The rest is to acquire with more seriousness than so far has been exhibited, the available contemporary know-how, expertise, skills and technologies in the oil and gas fields and to increase the level of local input into them to indigenize them and make them part of the local lore. This will increase income, jobs, and levels of know-how which certainly will benefit the development efforts in other areas and sectors as well. For instance, instead of being exporter of oil as a raw material, Libya will export oil as semi-treated or even wholly manufactured products. Instead of getting today's shared $60 a barrel, the country will harvest to itself hundreds of dollars, on each barrel abstracted with employment, learning, taxes, and investments as a bonus. This is what's called thinking rationally toward building a local prosperous economy. Not giving a sack of dollars to Harvard Associates just to tell you what Tom and d Jack are already talking about, and of course you want hear: tweak a little here, move a little bit there, build more hotels, and relax your zealotry so foreigners can come and hallelujah tourism and prosperity are around the corner.

        To paraphrase Dostoevski, every backward country is backward in its own way. The slug and sweat of humanity have proven, beyond doubt, there're rational ways to organize a country and put its people to work for the benefit of all and each. The question: is there going to be a Libyan -an Arab- way of thinking and organizing human affairs? Countries now getting to waking up have to be creative in the way they corner their advantageous niches of the global market. They've to look for the natural uniqueness as well as human talents that will give them the edge, not in today's world but ahead on, two generations from now. Since no starting country can compete with China, India, Korea, etc. In productions of today's consumer goods, a country like Libya has to look over the horizon and determine where it wants to be 50-100 years from now and what it can bring to the dinner table with the rest of the world, what contributions will be added to human civilization.

        While a development, according to today's parameters, tends to be self-centered, that's looking only for the specific country's interests, it's carved in stone not to think of what it would bring to the rest of the world. How the specific, and one may think also unique, historical experience with its of values and world-view may mold its rise to greatness. What new and unique contributions, this Arab-Muslim country can put forth - instead of the lamentations and wining about how inhumane and materialistic the civilization of others is! By vacating the table of losers, by showing a concern to global problems, and by the creativity to deal with them, not to say a new way of how to be a good steward to earth, would others start to taking you seriously, and come to showing some respect by reserving a place for you at the table of winners!


More Articles Written By Ghoma

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