Youssef Jira, a fresh-faced 18-year-old in a hoodie and a bandana around his head, has big ambitions in a Libyan society where dictatorship and violence dominate, rather than youthful creativity.
Jira is part of a group of young tech enthusiasts who took part in the Libyan Regional Championship for robotics in a suburb of Tripoli this month. Some 20 teams of 12 to 18 year olds took part in the inclusive event.
He wants to encourage other young people to use hi-tech to help modernize the divided and conflict-ravaged country.
“We want to send a message to all of society because what we’ve learned has changed us a lot,” said Jira, adding that he gained new skills and learned about teamwork in pursuit of a common goal.
Libya has experienced more than a decade of stop-start conflict since a NATO-backed insurgency in 2011 toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi, with numerous rival militias, foreign powers and multiple governments vying for influence.
The country remains divided between a so-called interim government in the western capital Tripoli and another in the east, backed by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.
‘It’s more than robots’
The event had the atmosphere of a high school sports game, with fans cheering for their teams working in a booth on the floor of the gym, against a backdrop of banners reading the words “Lybotics” and “First Tech Challenge” while pop music played. played.
The robots were small, wheeled structures with exposed circuitry that maneuvered jerkily around the pen in the center of the room.
Event coordinator Mohammed Zayed said such projects help “open new horizons” for young Libyans.
“This isn’t just about simple robots,” he said. “These young people also had to manage their relationships and work towards inclusion, unity and peace.”
Zayed said the event aimed to “prepare the workers of the future and raise awareness in the country about the importance of technology and innovation”.
Under Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, universities emphasized the leader’s views on politics, the military and economics rather than scientific advancement.
After years of violence, a period of relative calm since a ceasefire in 2020 has left some dreaming that Libya can move forward despite lingering political divisions.
The competition was attended by family, friends and government officials to encourage participants and promote technology culture.
The event, funded by an international school and private sponsors, had been planned since 2018 but was repeatedly postponed due to unrest followed by the COVID pandemic.
Shadrawan Khalfallah, 17, who competed on a girls’ team, said she believed technology could help address climate and health challenges and advance women.
“We set up our team to evolve our society and show that we exist,” she said, handing out stickers with the word “Change.”
Libya is rich in oil, but decades of stagnation under Gaddafi and years of struggle have destroyed the corruption-ridden economy and left the population in poverty.
Little public money goes to science and technology, but Nagwa al-Ghani, a science teacher and mentor to one of the teams, said that needed to change. “We need it if we want our country to develop,” she said, adding that education is the starting point.
They face many challenges, but the authorities in the capital Tripoli speak of “new initiatives” for digital development, with a focus on young people.
“Libya lacks nothing, neither personnel, nor intelligence, nor the determination of the youth,” government spokesman Mohammed Hamouda said at the event.
“What is missing is long-term stability and a strategic vision to support young people.”