Youth collaborate across social, economic, and ethnic divisions to adopt technology and improve their nation.

Youssef Jira, a fresh-faced 18-year-old wearing a sweatshirt and a bandana over his head, has lofty goals in a Libyan country where authoritarianism and brutality have ruled over youthful ingenuity.

Last month, Jira was among a group of teenage tech enthusiasts that competed in the Libya Regional Championship for robotics in a Tripoli neighborhood. Twenty teams of 12- to 18-year-olds participated in the inclusive competition.

He wants to inspire other young people to embrace technology to help modernize the fractured and war-ravaged nation.

“We want to send a message to all of society because what we’ve learnt has profoundly altered us,” Jira said, adding that he has acquired new talents and learned the value of collaboration in pursuit of a shared objective.

Since a NATO-backed rebellion in 2011 overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has seen more than a decade of intermittent violence, with several opposing militias, foreign forces, and different administrations vying for dominance.

The nation remains divided between an ostensibly temporary administration in Tripoli, the capital of the west, and one in the east, supported by the rebel commander Khalifa Haftar.

It’s not just robots.

The event had the feel of a high school sports competition, with people cheering for their teams as they worked in a pen on the gym floor, against a backdrop of banners reading “Lybotics” and “First Tech Challenge” as popular music played in the background.

The robots were little, wheeled devices with exposed wiring that maneuvered erratically about the pen at the room’s center.

Such endeavors, according to event organiser Mohamed Zayed, “offer new vistas” for young Libyans.

He stated, “This is not simply about basic robots.” These adolescents were also required to manage their interpersonal interactions and work for inclusion, unity, and peace.

Zayed stated that the purpose of the event was to “prepare the workers of the future and raise national awareness of the significance of technology and innovation.”

Instead of scientific development, colleges emphasized Gaddafi’s political, military, and economic ideas during his 42-year reign.

Following years of conflict, a period of relative peace after the 2020 truce has encouraged some to believe that Libya may begin to progress, despite the persistent political division.

At the competition, family, friends, and government officials cheered on the contestants and promoted the culture of technology.

The event, which was supported by an international school and private sponsors, had been planned since 2018 but constantly postponed due to turmoil and the subsequent COVID outbreak.

Shadrawan Khalfallah, a 17-year-old member of an all-female team, opined that technology may assist in addressing issues ranging from climate change to women’s advancement.

She distributed stickers with the word “Change” that said, “We formed our team to make our society evolve and demonstrate our existence.”

Libya is wealthy in oil, but decades of stagnation under Gaddafi and years of conflict have devastated its corruption-plagued economy and impoverished its populace.

Nagwa al-Ghani, a science teacher and mentor to one of the teams, believes that public funding for research and technology must increase. “We must have it if we want our nation to grow,” she added, adding that education is the first step.

Authorities in the capital Tripoli spoke of “new efforts” for digital growth, with an emphasis on youth, although facing severe obstacles.

At the ceremony, government spokesperson Mohamed Hamouda stated, “Libya has neither human resources nor intelligence, nor does it lack youth resolve.”

What is lacking is long-term stability and a comprehensive plan to help youth.

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