To the leaders of the world’s emerging nations, I am taking the unconventional step of directly addressing you with an open letter in the aftermath of the devastation on an epic scale in Libya caused by Storm Daniel, which caused the most catastrophic flood in North African history.
This was a perfect storm, triggered by nature and exacerbated by apathy, rooted in years of imbalanced stories focused on hopeless conflict, corruption and chaos; stories that have guided the widespread perception of a country incapable of development. But if we hope to forge shared opportunities, catastrophic indifference must first be shattered by reconsidering what we believe to be true about Libya.
I address you as an independent, nonpartisan and nonpolitical individual. I write to you with a sense of optimism because I am certain you are not indifferent to struggle in places beyond your borders and that you fundamentally believe that nations can change — even swiftly.
You have built, rebuilt and transformed your own national stories despite all manner of cynicism and uncertainty. You have made bold decisions, re-imagined your stories with courage, and paved new paths for peoples other than your own along the way. You have not only provided shelter but dignified life stories to millions.
Your legacies, however, will not be complete, for the greater good, if your commitments to other nations are rooted only in political considerations.
Stories are how we shape our own behaviors and how we set other people’s attitudes and expectations — essentially, their will — about working, living and thriving with us. And because I have witnessed the transformative influence of positive, multilateral will, I have grown acutely aware of the ways in which incomplete, or downright biased, stories can delay progress immeasurably.
Today, I am not calling for temporary solutions, although enormous amounts of aid for Derna are direly needed for immediate relief. I am also not asking for specific diplomatic solutions, policy solutions, military solutions, nor economic ones. Instead, I simply ask for a fresh lens through which to understand Libya’s story and, by extension, your roles within it. I am asking for a multilateral effort to act on insight, not disparate facts about Libya.
Contrary to mainstream headlines, Libya is a moderate, reforms-prone nation buried by ill fate. Her majority-youth population is being held hostage by the old guard both within and beyond its borders. Consider, for example, the documented, yet less-reported, stories of the unity among thousands of young Libyans in Derna today who have indiscriminately opened their homes to families displaced by the storm, trusting and unafraid of each other.
I am asking for a multilateral effort to act on insight, not disparate facts about Libya.
Listen to the widely shared recording of the young Libyan man fighting back tears as he remembers the violence he helped perpetrate against people in other parts of the country, only to find those same people coming to his aid in Daniel’s wake. Listen to him weep inconsolably, declaring with overwhelming remorse that “there is no war left in (him) anymore.”
This is not an isolated episode. The nationwide ripples and reverberations that his message have caused stand as evidence of our people’s ability to change, to forgive, and to no longer wait for their moral compass to be set by antiquated ideologues and institutions fraught by red tape.
Watch the footage of the young and the elderly standing shoulder-to-shoulder in tearful prayer. Observe the resilience of young men and women from different areas of the country, irrespective of ideology, as they form human chains to quickly distribute aid supplies. Watch the footage of young Libyan men and women dig through enormous piles of mud and rubble with their bare hands looking for the bodies of the departed, simply to grant them a dignified burial.
It is said that making the right diagnosis is half of the cure; similarly, the complete story is half of the solution. Libya’s story is unique. She is an orphaned country that has moved from foster parent to foster parent for as long as I have known her to exist. When she emerged as a nascent sovereign nation in 1951, she spent her early formative years in a peaceful home, until her story was diverted by a drastic change in parenting at 18 years of age.
It is therefore no wonder that as a sovereign young nation today, she finds herself standing on tremulous foundations, struggling to manage all aspects of her mundane life, wandering aimlessly between social circles, falling prey to varied ideologies and taking impulsive decisions; all culminating in inner unrest, a vicious circle of self-sabotage and deep frustration at her own inability to find her place and voice in the world.
But a history marked by continual transition and a majority-youth population also means being accustomed to transformation. This implies the possibility of change in its most benign form.
It is therefore my hope that this letter encourages you to resist the impulse to amplify the reductive messages of alarmists beckoning for more division. To question the credibility of officials who lethargically report the situation as being beyond their control. To challenge researchers, analysts, reporters, advisors, colleagues and even your counterparts elsewhere. To offer you the balanced knowledge about Libya that you need to shape your will toward her, and to break the cycles of apathy that have plagued her path to transformation over the past 50 years or more.
Just as the decrepit, and now collapsed, dams in Derna stood as a symbol of the indifference that made Daniel a perfect storm, I trust the dams of incomplete stories that are holding back the oceans of possibilities between our nations will collapse with them, too.
- Donya Abdulhadi is an international award-winning communications expert with global experience in providing counsel to government and private sector leaders across sectors. She has notably served as a communications consultant to the UN Support Mission in Libya in 2013 and is a speaker and writer on social and cultural issues impacting organizations today.