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A Libyan Journalist Finds Clarity in Lebanon: Reflections on the 2014 MENA Knowledge Hub Training

Coming from Tripoli, my four colleagues and I—representatives of the Libyan press, media, civil society and geosciences—arrived in Beirut on June 1.

We were all there to attend a first part of a ten-day workshop with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), which touched on specific topics in the governance of the oil and gas sector.

Upon our arrival, we met fellow participants from other Arab countries—Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon—and realized as soon as the sessions and training kicked off that the event was truly worth the trip.

I arrived wishing to learn and understand all that relates to the gas and oil industry, in a simple and accessible way—from the industry’s earliest stages (including the procedures, decisions, complications and mechanisms behind the technical, legal and technological processes) all the way to extraction, shipping and sale, when profits pour into national treasuries and budgets.

Before attending "Fundamentals of Oil and Gas Governance in the Middle East and North Africa," my head was filled with a confused jumble of jargon. I needed to clearly and accurately arrange and connect the issues to be able to confidently engage in informed discussions. In fact, I did achieve that to a great extent through lectures, group exercises and discussions with experts and academics, who trained us in all the aspects related to the oil and gas industry.

Understanding this sector and disseminating relevant information simply and smoothly to viewers and readers is not an easy feat for professional media in a petroleum-exporting country and OPEC member such as Libya. Perhaps such lack of clarity is due to the poor level of transparency and disclosure by the authorities over the years, in addition to conflicting data from officials, vague laws and legislations, and a weak civil society and media.

Libya, which enjoys sizable oil and gas reserves, is undergoing a transitional period. Ranked by international organizations as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, it is plagued by a fragile security situation and exhausted economy. It was imperative then to study and understand the global market and applicable laws, examine the experiences of other countries, and hear experts’ views on Libya in order to diagnose the situation and present it to the media accurately and professionally. This was attained in principle during these five days in Beirut.

We have been set on track, and we need to learn the rest through personal effort. What was most instructive to me was the discussion on financial systems and profits. It gave us an idea of what is happening now in our country and the countries of the teams participating in the training workshop. I was also interested in the debate in Lebanon over the discovery of oil or gas reserves within the country’s borders and territorial waters. The issue has created much controversy between those skeptical of these discoveries, the size of which remains uncertain, and those optimistic about the prospect of revenues from natural resources.

I can say for certain now, having learned about the fundamentals of oil and gas governance, that understanding this sector requires more than simple participation in a training course with legal, economic and environmental experts. Indeed, for journalists, it requires follow-up, verification and comparison with other countries and eras.

Side conversations, whether with fellow participants or trainers, were very inspiring for me, a news professional in a country whose people are preoccupied by oil production, profits, the distribution of revenues and the duration that these resources will keep generating money.

I have returned to my job with a whetted appetite for learning. The training answered many questions but also raised other more challenging ones that I should investigate and answer for myself. So much information was given in such little time, and the topics of the training have remained in our minds after our departure.

We came from a desert country whose economy rests solely on the production and sale of the oil and gas under the sand. These resources are the country’s bane as much as they are its source of income and livelihood. Knowing the details of the extraction and sale of these resources will not be an end for my interest in the subject but the beginning of a quest for further knowledge.

I am looking forward to the follow-up meeting in Beirut this fall to pick up where we left off.

Najwa Wahiba is a news anchor and environmental activist in Tripoli.

This posting is one of three participant perspectives from "Fundamentals of Oil and Gas Governance in the Middle East and North Africa," a foundation course held over two separate weeks in June and October by NRGI and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). This year marks the first such training on natural resource governance for civil society and media from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. To learn more about the knowledge hub, or to read the other participant perspectives, please visit our MENA hub page.