Passionate about high technology, Youssef Jira wants to encourage other young Libyans from the generations sacrificed to dictator Gaddafi to come up with technology initiatives to modernize the country.
Wearing a bandana on his forehead and wearing a white sweatshirt, an 18-year-old high school student enthusiastically competes in a robot building competition at a gym in Sarraj, an affluent area in western Tripoli.
The event is attended by about twenty teams, consisting of budding scientists, young men and women, amateur graphic designers and other budding communicators from all regions of the country, divided by rival political camps.
“We want to send a message to the whole society, because what we have learned from this experience has changed a lot in us,” Youssef Gira explains to AFP, referring to the development of individual skills and the spirit of cooperation between comrades. apart from the differences.
Next, to the music of “Rockabye” by the British band Clean Bandit, other young people encourage small amateur robots to compete.
– “Inclusion” and “unity” –
Libyan students take part in a robot building competition in Tripoli, March 4, 2022 (AFP – Mahmud Turkia)
With school programs that glorify the regime set up by “guide” Muammar Gaddafi and where the teaching of foreign languages has been marginalized, the Libyan education system has not fostered critical thinking or initiative for decades.
The programs were changed after the fall of the dictator in 2011, but repeated political crises punctuated by violence have not contributed to their implementation or the creation of strong political institutions.
In the meantime, the population, primarily young people, strives to work for the benefit of the development of their country.
Mohamed Zayed, who is coordinating the robot competition for an international private school in Tripoli, is convinced that such initiatives can “open up the horizons” of Libya because they involve more than “just robots”, mobilizing an entrepreneurial spirit and a taste for technology.
“These young people also had to manage the relationship among themselves with the idea of inclusion, unity and peace,” he told AFP after speaking to high school students, their families, as well as government officials.
For Mohamed Zayed, it is primarily a matter of “training future workers and raising awareness in the country of the importance of technology and innovation.”
In front of the gym, about twenty teams present their robots. Their composition also shows a desire to integrate often marginalized groups such as women, immigrants or the disabled into a very conservative society.
17-year-old Shadravan Khalfalla embarked on this adventure after seeing technology as a solution to climate and health issues and an opportunity to “put girls first.”
“There weren’t many girls besides us, so we created this team to help society grow and show that we exist,” a young high school student in a pink sweatshirt told AFP as she handed out “Change” stickers on behalf of her team.
Professor of biology, physics and chemistry Nagwa Al-Ghani, a mentor to one of the teams, also believes that technology will contribute to the development and “better image” of the country.
– “Start with education” –
Robot building competition in Tripoli, Libya, March 4, 2023 (AFP – Mahmud Turkia)
“We get these ideas from abroad and we say to ourselves, why not develop them here ourselves?” the Libyan, who studied in the United Kingdom, told AFP, urging Libyan officials “to be more interested in science and technology.”
“This is necessary if we want our country to develop, and we must start with education,” she insists.
In the oil-rich country, the government says it is making youth and technology the centerpiece of its development plan, with “new initiatives” in digital technology, telecommunications, the knowledge economy, youth education and even smart cities.
“Technology is the language of our times and it is spoken by young people,” said Mohamed Hamuda, a Tripoli government spokesman who attended the event.
“Libya lacks nothing, no human resources, no intelligence, no determination of the youth,” adds the person in charge, coming from a civilian company.
But, according to him, “we lack strong stability, as well as a strategic vision of supporting youth.”