The latest report on Libya by the World Bank said the country’s economy was “near collapse”. And with that economy being 95 percent oil-reliant, the man in charge of Libya’s National Oil Corporation knew he had a huge task on his hands.
When Mustafa Sanalla, 56, took office as head of the NOC in May 2014 he found a country torn by civil war and a record low oil exports of 230,000 barrel per day. Now Libya is producing 1.1 million bpd and he plans to reach the 1.5m threshold by 2018. But his job was anything by easy. He had to deal with the country’s two rival governments and regain control over the country’s oil sector from warlords one pipeline at a time. What made his leadership even more remarkale is that - unlike post-revolution governments- he refused to give payouts to the militia and tribal warlords in exchange for cooperation.
When the former UN Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, attempted to strike a deal with Ibrahim Jadhran, the militia commander who blockaded the terminals in the oil crescent region for three years, Sanalla wrote him a very strong letter:
“I learned yesterday with dismay of your meeting in Ras Lanuf with the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard for the Central Region, Ibrahim Jadhran. I understand you are about to announce an agreement to open the ports Jadhran has blockaded for close to 3 years at a cost to Libya of over $100 billion in lost revenues,” He told Kobler before closing with a very bold threat:
“I want to remind you that NOC was one of the first state institutions to recognise the Presidency Council. Since then, we have met with virtually no reciprocal support. Instead members of the Council, and I put Mr Majburi at the top of list, seem intent on using their positions to capture NOC. If this continues for very much longer, and if payments are made to Jadhran at the expense of NOC’s operational needs, which inarguably serve the country much better, NOC will be one of the first institutions to derecognise the Council”.
The UN-backed Presidency Council didn’t need to pay a penny to Jadhran, because shortly after his meeting with the UN envoy, he lost the oil crescent after a bloodless assault by the Libyan National Army. Mr Sanalla managed to bring back Zawya’s refinery, the fields of Sharara and Feel under NOC’s control as well as secure funding to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure and negotiate the return of international oil companies.
A leading Libyan newspaper called him “the guardian of Libyan oil”. Mr Sanalla is from Benghazi and graduated from Tripoli University in1985 with a degree in chemical engineering. He held different positions in the state-owned Ras Lanuf Oil Company (RASCO) between 1986 and 2011 after which he became member of NOC’s management board.
Mr Sanalla told The Associated Press in January of last year that Libya lost $68 billion in oil sales. The World Bank doesn’t except the country’s oil production to reach full capacity before 2020 and says that even then the economy is unlikely to fully recover due to low oil prices, high domestic debt and political uncertainty. It will take time. But Mr Sanalla is steadily steering it toward the right track. Some may say he is merely doing his job. In Libya’s current state of affairs that alone is worth all the praise.