Libya. Its wars, its financial crisis … and its young people who, despite everything, are trying to take on. To help them develop their business in a hostile business environment, the public agency “Expertise France” organizes support programs. One of them is funded by the United Kingdom and is particularly deployed in Tunis, where Journalist was able to meet some of these young Libyan entrepreneurs with failing firmness.
Explosion of laughter. At a hotel by the sea northeast of Tunis, a dozen young people from all over Libya are discussing in a good mood after a day of discussions about their projects. They are like family because for two years they were supported together by the UK-funded ‘Stream’ program implemented by the public agency Expertise France. This program was completed in September last year and has helped support about fifty entrepreneurs in the commercial, technical and economic development of their project.
Salahuddin Abu Ajila’s is innovative in a country dominated by the informal. “Hanout” (Maghreb word for “store”) is an e-commerce site launched in Tripoli in April last year while the war and health crisis raged. Before that, the 42-year-old Tripolitan sold his services as an “independent worker” in the field of new technologies. Now he is the boss and employs about fifteen people. “Thank God, our site works well, we serve 3,000 customers who are delivered to their homes and who mostly use online payment cards,” said Abu Ajila.
Overcome the trials
For the majority of Libyans, the fighting and the Covid-19 epidemic have contributed to the ordeal of the long queues, whether for money in the bank or for fuel or even bread. By letting them buy with alternative means of payment and by delivering them directly to their home, Salahuddin Abu Ajila and his team are convinced that they have provided a great service. “Thanks to that, we solve them for the problem of lack of liquidity. But suddenly the problem is transferred to us. It is extremely difficult to find enough to pay our merchants, who mainly operate in cash, ”the engineer apologizes.
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Money. Libya is full of it thanks to oil. But the potential of the private sector in the country remains underutilized despite the employment opportunities it would represent for young people. In the course of local investments for young companies, Expertise France is recently pleased to have achieved the commitment of two major Libyan groups.
A first step that was by no means obvious. “Whether it’s entrepreneurs or banks, potential private investors tend to look at these start – ups as traditional real estate assets and ask them if they have 10% or 20% returns when they do not. “No return in the beginning,” explains Pierre Tachot, responsible for entrepreneurship in Libya. Our role is to create dialogue between them through investor networks and make it work. “
Development of the business environment in Libya
For years, Libya has been at the bottom of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking, which is the benchmark for measuring the business environment. This is both the legacy of decades of economic intervention under Muammar Gaddafi and a decade of continued security and political instability. The prospect of a political transition offers some hope for business, but it is uncertain. “The authorities have an old-fashioned approach with us,” laments Mohamed Hammouda, whose start-up Arkam offers simple cloud-based accounting software but is still struggling to gain large-scale recognition.
A challenge common to many start-ups in Libya. “We want this culture to develop in our country. But the companies we are trying to approach are monopolized by more immediate problems such as lack of electricity, the fall of the dinar, which directly threatens the survival of their business, ”the young man continues.
This culture takes root very slowly. The Stream project opened a start-up incubator and accelerator in Tripoli in November 2019 in partnership with telecom operator Libyana. Initiatives such as the Sleidse program (support for Libya for economic integration, diversification and sustainable development) set up by France and the EU are helping to advance the cause of innovative entrepreneurs. In addition, the establishment of code schools in several Libyan cities is also on the program “Raqam-e”, a project launched last year.
Determination, a driving force
For French experts, the decision of these young entrepreneurs is a real driving force. To earn a living while fighting step by step against the surrounding conservatism and the obstacles to an economy in transition is a challenge they face day after day.
Sadus Al Jahmi is the publisher of children’s horror books in Benghazi, without precedent in the country. The young woman with the long blonde locks would have liked to have shown them to us, but “they confiscated them at Benghazi airport, allegedly for security reasons,” the young woman with a thousand caps explains with a smile. Amateur journalist during the Libyan revolution (she was 16 at the time!), She has since passed a school while collaborating with many international organizations in the media and the humanitarian.
“Currently, we have published three books with one hundred copies of each because our funds are limited,” explains the young Benghaziote. But participating in this program, I hope, will allow us to increase our income and grow, ”she continues.
Participation in this mentoring scheme during a Tunisian escape is for the young passionate woman who comes from a conservative family with a breath of air-saving. That same evening, she returns to Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution ten years ago, and where uncertainty now reigns. But Sadus Al Jahmi has promised to remain free and continue to grow his community of book lovers, growing every day on social networks.