A DAY IN THE LIFE OF LIBYA’S LONG ROAD TO PEACE
In Libya’s lawless south the sight of Abdul Salam al-Busayri running down the desert road began to draw a crowd.
Locals who had fled their homes to avoid fighting were too afraid to return home, until Busayri, who had covered 145km on an unorthodox peace mission, jogged into their lives.
As he ran, some began to go with him, others followed in their cars. It was the start of his extraordinary peace marathons, which have caught the popular imagination. “They feared the war was going to start again. When they saw me running on my own, it convinced many the area was safe,” he said.
That was in 2015, when that area was a battleground. His uncle had been killed in crossfire, the fourth member of his family to die since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Heartbroken, Busayri decided to do something. “I got the idea that running could help people stop fighting and instead sit down and talk. I planned to run between the warring sides and talk to leaders of both and encourage people to go home. They had a huge reception for me on both sides. Both loved the initiative. I convinced them to talk to each other.”
Since then Busayri, 30, from Qaraqra, 145km east of Sabha, has clocked up more than 1600km running through Libya’s conflict zones. This year alone he has run nearly 1100km. He often crosses frontlines to talk to leaders from the warring factions to spread his message of peace. He carries a flag emblazoned with his catchphrase: “We embrace and reconcile with each other.”
He plans to run with the flag to Russia for the football World Cup next year, to show that Libya, a country associated with terrorism and war, is peaceful.
Busayri could only save enough to buy a pair of trainers in 2003. He ran his first race, a 9km run in 1999, barefoot. Although he has never competed for Libya, he finished first in a marathon in the south in 2007. He now has some sponsorship but he doesn’t have the money for expensive running kit.
He has been caught in the crossfire. Last year while training in Zawiya, 65km west of Tripoli, he had to run for his life when militias opened fire.
In March he ran into wartorn Derna, once an Islamic State stronghold. It is now controlled by al-Qa’ida-linked groups, fighting the Libyan army. Even there he was welcomed. “People started to come out and cheer for me, they were happy so we celebrated,” he said.