African Union warns against rush to elections in Libya

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Maria Ribeiro (L), UN special representative and head of the UN support mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame (C) and Libya's unity government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj attend an event to announce the official launch of the 2018 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan, in Tripoli on January 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 30 January 2018

African Union warns against rush to elections in Libya

ADDIS ABABA: Libya should not rush into holding elections as part of UN-led efforts to end years of conflict and division in the North African nation, a senior African Union official said on Monday.
The United Nations has said it wants to help Libya organize national elections by the end of this year as it seeks to break a deadlock between factions based in the east and west of the country.
UN officials including special representative Ghassan Salame have acknowledged complex political, security and legislative challenges to holding such a vote, but say they are encouraged by support for elections among Libyans.
Salame traveled to an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss with regional leaders how to pursue a common approach on Libya.
“We received (Salame), who agreed that this conflict is so complicated and difficult that none of the organizations can solve it by its own,” Smail Chergui, commissioner of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council, told journalists on the sidelines of the summit.
“So it is a renewed engagement that the two organizations (UN and AU) will work hand in hand to promote reconciliation and prepare the necessary conditions for elections,” Chergui said.
“We (AU member countries) are saying that we should not rush for elections. We have to prepare solid ground for peaceful and credible elections so that the results will be respected by all the parties.”
The UN is trying to revive a stalled peace plan for Libya that was signed in December 2015.
The last time the country held elections, in 2014, the results were disputed and a conflict that developed after a 2011 uprising deepened, resulting in rival governments being established in Tripoli and the east.
This comes as Libya’s eastern-based parliament swore in a new central bank governor on Monday, though the head of a rival assembly in the capital, Tripoli, quickly rejected the move.
The leadership of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) has been divided since 2014, when rival political factions established competing governments in Tripoli and the east of the country.
The eastern-based parliament, or House of Representatives (HOR), set up a parallel central bank in the eastern town of Bayda, voting to dismiss Tripoli governor Sadiq Al-Kabir.
After backing Kabir’s former deputy Ali Salim Al-Hibri to run the bank in Bayda, in December the HOR elected Mohamed Shukri as the new governor.
As he was sworn in on Monday, Shukri spoke of reuniting the CBL and working to emulate the National Oil Corporation (NOC), which has overseen a sharp increase in production despite continuing political divisions.
“Today is the day of unifying the central bank which was divided and that has divided spending and monetary policy,” Shukri told lawmakers. “We suffered from problems that you are aware of and we promise to work in the same context as the National Oil Corporation to achieve development and welfare for the Libyan people.”
However, it remains unclear what role Shukri can play since Kabir has shown no sign of leaving his post and has continued to control oil revenues, the source of nearly all Libya’s income, as well as most spending across the country.
Abdulrahman Swehli who heads Tripoli’s State Council, a rival assembly to the HOR, called the vote “another jump in the air ... that will be doomed to failure.” There was no immediate comment from the central bank in Tripoli.
Shukri’s swearing-in comes as the Libyan dinar has made strong gains on the parallel market, rising to less than five dinars to the dollar in recent days from around nine dinars to the dollar at the end of 2017.
The partial recovery of the dinar may ease some political pressure on Kabir, who has faced growing calls to devalue the dinar from the official rate of 1.3 to the dollar, as the dinar slid in value over the past two years.
Currency traders and economists have attributed the dinar’s gains in part to Kabir launching a program for citizens to claim $500 in foreign currency at the official rate, widening the options for accessing and transferring dollars, and promising to ease restrictions on dollar allowances for importers.

How GCC's smart cities will tackle urbanization's challenges

Updated 37 min 46 sec ago

How GCC's smart cities will tackle urbanization's challenges

  • Use of data and AI can potentially transform the Arab world’s urban hubs into digitally enabled smart cities
  • Urban connectivity offers numerous benefits, including detailed mapping of behavior, geography and feelings of citizens

ABU DHABI: Use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) will be crucial in the transformation of the Arab world’s major urban hubs into digitally enabled smart cities.

This was the consensus of experts who spoke at the Smart Cities Forum of the World Future Energy Summit, one of the highlights of this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week on Jan. 11-18.

Technologically advanced cities are investing in digital tech to help the environment, enhance mobility, and improve municipal services. Among those expected to enable the transition are 5G wireless networks and autonomous vehicles.

The Smart Cities Forum addressed the opportunities offered by the fusion of physical, biological and digital worlds that futurists have termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The 4IR has ushered in an era of disruptive developments that will have socio-economic consequences for the entire world. Unlike during past industrial revolutions, many believe the Arab world cannot afford to be left behind this time around.

The growth of urban areas is especially apparent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where rural living is nearly impossible in arid land that can barely support subsistence agriculture.

In 2017, 17 of 22 Arab League countries had more than half their populations living in urban areas. With further increases predicted in MENA countries, experts want implementation of policies designed to improve urban growth.

“In recent research we conducted across the region, covering 22 Arab countries, we are going to see an increase in ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices,” said Fadi Salem, director of research and advisory at the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government.

“In the Arab world alone, there are almost 890 million (IoT) devices and, with that level, there is a massive amount of data being generated.

“That number only covers personal IoT devices connected to the internet used for personal needs. It doesn’t include sensors and actuators installed by governments. So, the actual figure would be even higher.”

Artificial intelligence, in the form of e-passport gates at airports, or driverless modes of public transport, is already being wheeled out as the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (AFP)

If one were to include mobile phones, computers, personal devices and smartphones, the figure would be more than 1 billion in the MENA region alone.

Naturally, connectivity on such a scale offers numerous benefits, including detailed mapping of behavior, geography and feelings of citizens. Salem views this both as an opportunity and a concern.

“Cities across the region are in a very good position to take advantage of connectivity hubs, (so they can) tailor their policies to be responsive to the needs of populations,” he said.

Prominent among the Middle East’s cities with a high degree of digitalization of government services is Abu Dhabi, the host of the World Future Energy Summit.

The director of spatial data infrastructure at the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Khawla Abdulla Al-Fahim, said: “We consider citizens as inspectors, whose data help us find weak points within the city through our CityGuard app, which allows them to report incidents.

“We can predict future needs based on the data we are getting.”

Some experts who spoke at the forum called for a move towards behavioral analysis and segmentation in cities, citing Amazon as an example.

Amazon changes its product prices more than 2.5 million times a day, despite having access to less data than what a typical city possesses. This way the e-commerce giant ensures that its prices are always competitive and also maximizes its profit.

“We’ve been doing this in companies, and we can take those lessons and apply them to cities,” said Rosi Bremec, vice president for business excellence at Visionect, which designs and develops electronic paper solutions.

“We get data from apps, we study the way our customers react to our changing prices, among other elements, and we call them growth experiments. Cities are already offering open source data to their residents and for companies to create apps with that data,” she said.

“We will be analyzing the behavior of citizens, just like we do for our customers.”


10% - of global population that lived in cities in 1918

55% - currently living in urban areas

68% - predicted to live in urban areas by 2050

$158bn - Projected spending on smart city initiatives worldwide in 2022

Salem pointed out such data had yet to become fully representative of society, with some parts cities less likely to be connected than others.

“The data we have is, in a way, flawed if we are to use it in framing inclusive policies,” he said.

“It’s a concern that needs to be taken into consideration. We need to understand these gaps and then take measures to overcome the flaws in the data. These are important considerations to be taken.”

Many believe that going forward, AI will enable the resolution of such issues, making the available data usable.

Additionally, AI is expected to lead to more automation in such fields as energy, construction, productivity, health, transport and mobility.

“AI is the brain, helping people do their work,” said Dr. Steve Griffiths, senior vice president of research and development at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.

“Robots will be working with people. They will not be a complete replacement for people but an augmentation.

“For instance, in the field of safety we have a project with Burj Khalifa in firefighting, working with a drone that can withstand high wind speeds. No human being can do this task, so you have to have someone working there with a robot.”

Anwaar Al-Shimmari, chief innovation officer and director of design at the UAE’s Ministry of Infrastructure Development, said cities of the future would increasingly be expected to help human inhabitants.

“We have to ensure the machine doesn’t take the decision on our behalf,” she said. “It’s a tool to help us in taking the right direction based on information.”

According to Al-Shimmari, “one of the key aspects to consider is how to deal with this when we can see a lot of changes happen in a very small amount of time.

“We all care about the real physical aspects of AI, but the social and economic aspects must also be understood,” she said.