I’m off to Benghazi

I’m at home in Buxton watching the Masters, my kids are asleep upstairs, and Libya — where, inshallah, I’ll be on Tuesday morning — feels a long way off.

I had this great idea about six days ago: get to Benghazi and do a story on the Transitional National Council and its oil plans. Now that the tickets to Cairo for Eric Kampherbeek, a photographer, and me are booked, along with a hotel in Marsa Matruh (on the Mediterranean coast, west of Alexandria as you run your finger along to the Libyan border), I’m beginning to realise just how far in over my head I may be.

I’ve travelled a lot as a journalist, including to some troubled countries. The worst was Somalia, where I reported for Prospect on a dodgy London-listed Australian firm searching for oil in pirate-infested Puntland. It was dicey, and I saw a lot of technicals and small arms. But it wasn’t a warzone (I was nowhere near Mogadishu).

Benghazi should be relatively safe. And, I’m sure, it will be crawling with journalists who actually know what they’re doing. And I have no intention of going near the frontline. But, still. Once we reach Salloum, where we intend to cross from Egypt into Libya, we’ll have to find someone to drive us eight hours to Benghazi. Many things could go wrong — and I’m no CJ Chivers.

So I’m a little anxious.

If I’m honest, I’m also a little excited. I’m also pleased that Petroleum Economist, my main employer, agreed to the trip. It’s not a big magazine, but it punches way above its weight and its reputation is growing. I’m hoping to file a compelling story that rewards my executive editor and the other bosses for their faith — and maybe scoop the opposition. (I’m totally confident Eric, a quality snapper, will deliver the goods.)

But I’m also going because since becoming editor of PE last year I’ve spent too much time in front of a computer and not enough time in the field. My last off-diary trip (that is, excluding the increasingly tedious conference circuit) was to Canada’s oil sands, which yielded many articles, including a long one for The Economist, where I’m a stringer. I’m tired of watching big stories in my beat happen from a distance. It’s time to get out again. Either I do the job properly, or I get on and do something that’s a little more financially secure.

The other reason I’m going, in spite of my reservations, my lack of genuine warzone experience and the funny feeling in my stomach, is because I want to find out if this is another war for oil. Broad question, I know. And I’m not sure if I’ll find any definitive answer in Benghazi. But I bet I’ll get more clues than I would sitting in my office in London or Buxton. Either way, it’ll be material for a book I’m trying to write. And, I’m pretty sure, it will be an adventure.


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