Interview: Mahmoud Al Sougatri

Which factors are contributing to Misrata’s economic revival, and what is the resulting impact on Libya’s broader economic expansion?

MAHMOUD AL SOUGATRI: Misrata is recovering, supported by growing optimism from the new businesses that are emerging in the city, as well as the ongoing work to rebuild and strengthen the infrastructure that supports all of this activity. At the same time, the manufacturing base is getting stronger, which contributes to a positive environment that attracts business, talent and investment. The Port of Misrata and the Misurata Free Zone are essential to the region’s resurgence, serving as the backbone for economic activity in the area. In addition, amid global challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Libya has also been working to recover from a period of conflict that damaged its governance structure and disrupted the normal flow of business. Despite these challenges, Misrata – and especially the private sector – are leading the country’s revival. Beyond the advantages of infrastructure and location, the city’s youth population is a vital aspect of its upward trajectory because they have an optimistic and innovative approach, and are adept at leveraging technology to find solutions.

Where are the main economic challenges underpinning Misrata’s recovery?

AL SOUGATRI: Governance and regulation are a central part of the infrastructure that makes up the business environment of a city, along with the physical infrastructure of utilities, roads, ports and the internet. This is where policymakers are working to streamline bureaucracy through digitalisation and reforms that can help to encourage business growth. However, there are limits to what can be done as a city government. The factors that weigh most heavily on the business environment and the economy in Misrata are addressed at the national level, either through laws or through the actions taken by various ministries. Improvements have been achieved in this area, and there is a recognition of what needs to be done at the national level to sustain an environment conducive to growth and investment.

However, due to the lack of a unified governance model, the path to meaningful progress can be challenging. Businesses in Misrata have the infrastructure available to access markets in Europe and the neighbouring countries of Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Niger, as well as markets abroad. Nonetheless, they are limited in their ability to trade and conduct business in these markets because of sanctions, import restrictions and weak implementation of trade agreements. None of these issues can be resolved without the government’s ability to negotiate in a unified way on behalf of Libya. Forging a collective front would better position Misrata to capitalise on the considerable growth expected in Africa in the coming decades.

What sectors do you see as the most dynamic and promising for Misrata’s economy?

AL SOUGATRI: While Misrata continues to be strong in its historical domains of manufacturing, trade and agriculture, its most promising growth areas are technology and entrepreneurship. Businesses in these fields are not only serving the needs of companies in traditional sectors, but are also creating new sectors to cater to the demands of consumers. This innovation brings much energy to the city’s economy, allowing businesses and potential employees to access a global market for services and labour. In the long term, strengthening these global connections, leveraging the educated youth population and transferring knowledge will be essential drivers for growth. In the short term, we are working to dispel the negative perceptions about Libya that have arisen in recent years due to the conflict, and showcase the reality and opportunities available now.