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How quarrel over tobacco sent Libya into darkness

A recent electricity blackout in most of western Libya caused by a local militia dispute has contributed to the new normal of major power cuts and a failing national electricity grid in the country.
A woman prepares breakfast in candlelight during a blackout inside a kitchen in her house in Tripoli, Libya, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny - RTSVKY8
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Most of western Libya, home to 6.5 million people and site of the capital Tripoli, experienced an electrical blackout on Jan. 14 that extended from the Tunisian border in the west to the city of Ajdabiya, some 560 miles to the east. It lasted for up to 30 hours in some cities and towns, leaving multitudes in the dark and compounding the misery of the coldest winter in recent years. A few days earlier, southern Libya had suffered a complete blackout as well. In the past, Libya generated surplus electricity, which it exported to Tunisia and Egypt. Today, it has a power generation deficit of about 75% of its domestic needs, according to some officials. It also has no central government to protect the provision of power it does generate from various aggrieved parties.

The Jan. 14 blackout appears to have been triggered by the most trivial of reasons: a quarrel between tribal militias from Zawiya and one from nearby Warshefana, in the west toward the border with Tunisia. Disagreements between the two tribes in the past have led to the closure of the only highway connecting Zawiya and Tripoli farther east. As long as tribes and gangs can take the law into their own hands, it is nearly impossible for Libya to be safe and stable again. The quarrel that triggered the massive blackout took root in mid-December.

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