The journey of a thousand miles

Towards informed and active citizenship in Libya

Towards informed and active citizenship in Libya
BRIDGE trainer Hind al Shaweish opening of voting open day in National Academy

When Ayman Ramdan, a student in the University of Tripoli left his home early on 28 June 2012 he had a long day ahead of him – The “Open Day to encourage Electoral Participation of University Youth.”

He was joining 15 other students who trained the day before on how to educate their university peers on voting procedures for the elections of the General National Congress, the first free, multi-party elections in Libya since 1952.

“After I had trained on how to explain the electoral process to youth, I did not stop at raising awareness in the morning, in the Open Day,” said Ayman.  “I continued to spread the message through my evening youth-oriented programme on the radio,” he added. “From students and callers to the radio programme, I could tell that we were able to get our message across.

Groups of peer educators held simultaneous Voting Open Days in 11 of Libya’s 13 public universities. Setting up in a conspicuous, highly trafficked spot on campus, they used voter education flipcharts and other promotional materials prepared by the Libyan High National Electoral Commission to pass on information. 

They quizzed participating students on electoral procedures and passed out “Libya Votes” T-shirts and caps as prizes, and to hundreds of their curious peers.  Ayman and his colleagues were trained by certified civic educators who graduated from the UNDP-supported BRIDGE programme (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections).

Highlights and facts

  • Out of 2.8 million Libyans who registered, 1.76 million Libyans voted on 7 July 2012 to elect the country’s new General National Congress, a turnout of about 63 % of registered voters
  • Over half a million students are registered in Libya’s thirteen public universities and eleven national institutes of vocational training
  • 26 Certified Civic Educators (15 females and 11 males) graduated from the BRIDGE training which started in March 2012. In the lead up to GNC elections, they were all now employed by the High National Electoral Commission as electoral trainers.
  • The Libyan Scouts Organization has a membership of around 18,000 scouts, spread across all parts of Libya.
  • SCELT voter education effort trained over 1000 volunteers from around 400 non-governmental organizations in Libya’s 13 electoral districts

“The students themselves were the ones explaining electoral procedures to their peers,” said Hind ElShawiesh, the BRIDGE trainer who led the effort in the National Academy in Tripoli. “It was clear that the students we trained were very well prepared and played their role in creating awareness, perfectly,” she added proudly.

While it is hard to tally the number of students who took part, Hind and other colleagues in the several Open days are sure to have given out over 20,000 T-shirts and caps in total.

“This was the first time in Libya to run such a programme in universities,” underlined Ossama Kshada, Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Higher education. “Even though it was exams time, there was wide participation and it had excellent results.”

Within the UN Integrated Electoral Support Team led by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, UNDP has played a leading role in civic and voter education through 2 projects: the Support to Civic Engagement in Libya’s Transition (SCELT) Project and the Libyan Electoral Assistance Project (LEAP).

SCELT focuses on long-term civic education, of which electoral literacy was only one urgent output. In addition to the Open Days in universities, UNDP depended on its BRIDGE civic educators to extend voter education through the Libyan Scouts Organization and an extensive network of over 400 newly formed non-governmental organizations covering all 13 electoral districts of Libya.

This community outreach effort succeeded in spreading basic voting information to constituents in some of the most remote villages of Libya. But most importantly, it prepared a cadre of civic educators committed to continue their mission to accompany the key milestones in Libya’s transition to democracy.

“Beyond these elections, we are preparing to expand our civic education programme considerably,” said Ammar Filfil, from one of the participating NGOs – the Libyan Association for Human Rights in AlZawia. “The expanded programme will be in phases and will address issues on the making of the constitution; the referendum to approve it; elections of a new parliamentary assembly; and possibly presidential elections as well.”

The $US 4.3 million SCELT project strives to provide the nascent civil society in Libya with expertise and technical tools necessary for them to design and conduct civic education & dialogue initiatives focusing on electoral and constitutional processes throughout the transitional phase in Libya. Its main components are: 1) strengthening civil society capacities to undertake civic education; 2) facilitating civic engagement of youth; 3) increasing women's participation in the democratic transition process; and 4) supporting national capacity to undertake public consultations and dialogue.

1.76 million Libyans voted on 7 July 2012 to elect the country’s new General National Congress, a turnout of about 63 % of registered voters—a decent result or a population that has had no chance to vote in any free multi-party elections for six decades. For the youth, this was their first time ever. They have never voted in any poll.

“Youth are drivers of change, as we have seen in the revolution.” said Eric Overvest, UNDP Country Director in Libya. He asserted: “We can count on their strong spirit of engagement to champion the new realities in Libya where everyone feels that they can have a stake in the future of the country."