Tripoli services struggle in post-Gaddafi era
Police and municipal cleaners have been left without staff as Libya's capital strives for a return to normality.
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2011 12:09
Tripoli's police force is currently unable to do much more than direct traffic and file reports [David Poort]

Tripoli, Libya - A police force without weapons and many of its stations looted. Rubbish filing the streets and clogging sewer systems. Only one out of every seven street cleaners is still at work, and most police officers are either fighting on the frontlines, or in jail.

These are some of the grim realities of municipal Tripoli as it staggers back to its feet in the early days of the post-Muammar Gaddafi era. As bad as the current conditions may sound, a range of city managers and workers told Al Jazeera, things could be much worse.

"Our biggest problems these days are getting people back to work, paying government wages and getting public transport running again. Eventually, the police will have to take control and regain authority," said Sadat el Badri, a member of Tripoli's Local Council.

Badri, who is responsible for Tripoli's Planning and Development department, said the Military Council, led by Abdel Hakim Belhadj, is currently the ultimate authority on civic matters in the capital.

By his account, when celebratory gunfire became a problem in the city after it was captured by the forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC), it was the Military Council that sent out a mass mobile phone text message ordering revolutionary fighters and residents to stop firing in the air "for any reason and under any circumstance".

A public message of this importance would normally be issued by the police. Since the interim government took over, however, the Tripoli police have been disarmed, dismantled and reduced to a mostly powerless administrative bureau.

Many officers simply did not report for duty; some joined the revolutionaries and others were jailed for suspected loyalty to Gaddafi. According to Badri and others, Tripoli's finest are currently unable to do much more than direct traffic and file reports.

"It is just one example of the many challenges the capital faces in this crucial transition period," Badri told Al Jazeera.

"I can see the beginning of a political struggle here in Tripoli. Everyone is trying to look after his own interests. It is not the time for that now. We need to stay focused on the national agenda," Badri added.

Stations stripped

Gaddafi's security forces disarmed Tripoli's police force when the uprising began in February, in order to maintain a monopoly on weapons. For the same reason, the NTC has so far refused to re-arm them.

"The regular police was mistrusted by Gaddafi, who preferred to rely on his own security forces. Gaddafi ignored us. Most of us were not part of his regime," said Abdulrahman Artemi, an administrator at a police station in the el Awsat neighbourhood in the centre of Tripoli.

There were 40 officers attached to the station before Gaddafi was toppled. Now, only a handful of officers hang around the entrance of the rundown building that was mobbed during "zero hour", as Tripoli residents refer to the days the regime fell in August.

"People taking advantage of that chaos raided the bureau, stealing all the computers, phones and television sets. They even took the cooking gas from the bureau's canteen," said Artemi.

A month later, there remains barely any communication between Tripoli's police districts, and none with other cities.

The Associated Press news agency reported earlier this week that Tripoli residents were running their own ad hoc prisons due to the lack of officials to arrest criminals or suspected Gaddafi loyalists.

Tripoli police officers told Al Jazeera that they were aware of the existence of these prisons, but claim that most of them have already been closed. They claimed the prisoners had been transferred to the main prison facility at Mitiga airbase on the outskirts of Tripoli.

'Cleanest city'

Residents and officials said the capital had remained largely peaceful since the fall of the regime, despite the lack of police presence.

"There is no chaos," Ryad Ahmed, a police officer said.

"What you see in Tripoli today is normal in a transition period. There have been some thefts, but thank God, there has been very little looting. It has been relatively quiet," he added.

As revolutionary fighters battle the last of Gaddafi's strongholds to the south and east of Tripoli, life in the capital is slowly returning to normal. Most problems with electricity, water and fuel supplies having all been overcome.

Some foreign workers who fled the fighting in Libya have returned, alleviating part of the city's urgent shortage of labourers.

The state-run Tripoli Cleaning and Maintenance Company, responsible for collecting garbage, is struggling to cope with the mounds of rubbish that has accumulated in the streets.

"Of the 3,500 workers we used to employ before the uprising, only 500 have stayed," Anwar Sharif, manager of the company," told Al Jazeera.

The lack of garbage collectors and street sweepers has caused a health risk in the capital. Trash has clogged the sewage system in some neighbourhoods, spilling large amount of sewage water into the streets.

The NTC has promised to import 1,000 street cleaners and garbage collectors from Egypt, but it will take at least another month before the first arrive.

Progress in Tripoli is slow these days, said Sharif - but he remains optimistic about the changes taking place in the city.

"In the old days, a thousand of my employees used to focus exclusively on Gaddafi's property, cleaning his family's farms, villas and chalets," said Sharif.

"When we are back at full strength, we will have the cleanest city on this side of the Mediterranean."

Follow David Poort on Twitter: @DavidPoort

Al Jazeera
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