CELEBRATING 45 DYNAMIC YEARS
Survey written by Anver Versi
Tunisia celebrates 45 years
of independence on March 20. This is a brief span of time in terms of
the age of a 3,000 year old civilisation; but in terms of achievement,
those 45 years have surely been the most dynamic of any century. Over
the last 45 years, Tunisia has transformed itself from the French
colonial backwater it had been reduced to, into the most modern state
The Africa Competitiveness Report, published recently by the
World Economic Forum, puts Tunisia at the top of the competitive league
table, above Mauritius, Botswana and 21 other African countries.
This is a remarkable achievement for a country which has no oil or, for
that matter, significant natural resources. Half the country is desert
and the population is only nine million strong. So, why has Tunisia succeeded
where so many others, on the continent and in the rest of the developing
world, failed? The secret of Tunisia's success, according to President
Zine El Abiddine Ben Ali, is that it placed its trust entirely on the
resourcefulness of its people. "Our greatest natural asset," he says,
"is our people." It is hardly surprising therefore that the World Economic
Forum report also places Tunisia at the top of the human development league
Tunisia's success has made nonsense of the theory that emerging economies
cannot make a go of it unless they have vital natural resources like oil,
minerals or gemstones. In fact, there are several countries all over the
continent which are richly endowed with natural resources but which still
languish in poverty.
"Since we rely so heavily on human resources for our livelihood and prosperity
as a nation, " says Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, "it is natural that
we should take good care of our people and develop their potential to
Taking good care of the people has translated into a dramatic rise in
living standards. Some 70% of the population today are middle class home
owners. Income per head has soared from US$30 in 1956 to US$2,138. All
citizens, regardless of income, are eligible for healthcare cover. Life
expectancy has increased from 50 years in 1956 to 70 years today - the
highest in Africa. Poverty levels have been slashed down to a meagre 5%,
lower than in many developed nations.
Development of human resources begins very early in life. Infant mortality,
at less than 30 per 1,000 births is the lowest in Africa. There are 1,886
primary health centres to ensure that new borns and their mothers get
all the attention they require.
Tunisia's allocation of 20% of the GDP to education is one of the highest
in the world, let alone Africa. Education is free for all children and
primary school enrollment now covers 95% of children. At independence
in 1956, less than 5% of children attended school. Secondary school enrollment
is today around 75%. According to the World Economic Forum report, the
quality of education at both levels is the highest in Africa.
Tunisia's six universities produce around 155,000 graduates every year.
A network of vocational training centres caters for around 60,000 trainees.
There are numerous retraining and upgrading programmes for those in employment.
In addition, several schemes, including unsecured loans from the National
Solidarity Bank, give aspiring entrepreneurs that all important first
start in business.
Tunisia also ranks very high in the number of internet users - with very
cheap access available in schools, libraries and cyber-cafes. Computers
have become part of everyday life - with a growing number of households
owning their own equipment. Micro credit loans are available to people
who want to purchase their own computers.
This is the bed-rock on which Tunisia has built its economic and social
house. But all good intentions might have come to nothing without the
sort of enlightened leadership the country has enjoyed through its 45
years of independence.
Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first President began the process of modernisation
when he swept away several anachronistic laws and customs. He raised women
from their traditional role as subservient to men and placed them at the
heart of the nation’s economic and cultural life. He placed great emphasis
on education and self reliance.
The upward momentum really gathered pace with The Change, when Ben Ali
became President in 1987. The new leadership blew away the last vestiges
of class distinction and old privilege that still persisted, ushering
in a new era of pragmatic thinking and practical policies.
He wanted results, not excuses for why things were not working. In a few
short months, he convinced the various political factions to pull together
instead of pulling apart. He persuaded various leaders to stop wasting
time and energy engaging in petty politics while there was a mountain
of work to be done to build the economy.
He got the country's top brains and planners to work out all the details
of a strategy that would catapult Tunisia from a low income Third World
country into a high income modern state in record time. He made sure the
policies were followed to the letter. If a strategy or tactic was seen
not to work, he had no hesitation in ditching it for another.
The success of some of the schemes initiated by Tunisia, such as the 26-26
National Solidarity Fund against poverty and the 21-21 scheme against
unemployment have gained such international renown that the UN wants to
extend them to all developing countries of the world.
Under Ben Ali, Tunisia freed itself from the shackles of conformity. It
was no longer prepared to blindly follow prescriptions from self-styled
experts. The country would do whatever was required in order to achieve
its goals. One of these was to ensure political stability but stamping
down hard and early on destructive forces such as fundamentalism and all
other forms of extremism. Tunisia, unlike so many other African nations,
was not going to be turned into a football for various interested parties
to kick around.
The results of this single-minded, pragmatic approach, Tunisia's top officials
now admit, have been even more spectacular than they could ever have imagined.
Growth has been sustained at around 5% per annum, inflation has been nailed
to the floor, the currency has held its value for a decade and thousands
of foreign companies have poured in. Today, Tunisia can bask in the glory
of being accredited the most competitive country in Africa.
But the country's planners say there is still a long way to go before
the dream is fully realised. They want to see an end to unemployment,
they want to eradicate poverty and they want incomes to rise inexorably
to match those of the developed world. By 2010, when an association agreement
with the EU comes into effect, Tunisia wants its economy to be on par
with that of Europe.
It is well on the way to getting there.
Africa's most competitive nation
Political stability, sound economic policies, a modern, developed infrastructure
and a well qualified workforce have made Tunisia Africa's leading foreign
direct investment destination. There are more than 1,800 foreign companies
in Tunisia, including such household names as British Gas, Benetton, General
Motors, Lee Cooper, Mitsubishi, Sony and Siemens.
In order to provide the investment world with a comprehensive evaluation
of the competitiveness of African countries, Professor Klaus Schwab, president
of the World Economic Forum at Davos and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director
of the International Development Centre at Harvard University, USA, commissioned
The Africa Competitiveness Report which was released in January.
Sources include The World Bank, the IMF, the United Nations, and the Economist
Intelligence Unit. Questionnaires were sent to 1,800 foreign companies
in 24 African states whose combined GDP accounts for 80% of Africa’s total
GDP. The study looked at 70 criteria divided into six categories. In addition
to information about investment climate and competitiveness, the report
also examined the state of human development in each country.
The overall ranking was based on a combination of both competitiveness
and human development rankings. Following are excerpts from the report:
Degree of Openness
1) Foreign Trade: Degree of liberalisation (quotas, licences, foreign
exchange). Tunisia is among the top 10 countries. Mauritius is the most
2) Import quotas: Ease of obtaining import quotas for equipment and spare
parts: Tunisia comes first, followed by Botswana and Lesotho.
3) Foreign exchange currencies: Ease of obtaining foreign exchange for
imports: There are no problems in five countries: Tunisia, Botswana, Senegal,
Morocco and Mauritius.
4) Priority given to exports: Strong priority for exports exists in Tunisia,
Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius, Morocco, Botswana, Ethiopia and Senegal.
5) Export guarantees and taxes: Top performers are: Tunisia, Botswana,
Namibia and Morocco.
6) Local currency value: The value of local currency is found most adequate
in Tunisia, Senegal (Cfa), Botswana, Namibia.
7) Political stability: Political stability and most favourable climate
for expanding enterprises exists in Tunisia, Senegal, Botswana, Namibia,
Tanzania, Madagascar, South Africa.
8) Exchange rate stability: Investors rated reliability and consistency
of policy most highly in Tunisia, Botswana, Morocco, Mozambique and Tanzania.
1) Labour regulations: The most precise labour regulations exist in Tunisia,
Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius and Morocco.
2) Application of legislation: The most rigorous application of legislation
occurs in Tunisia, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius and South Africa.
3) Degree of tax evasion: There is no tax evasion in Tunisia, Botswana,
Mauritius and Namibia.
4) Corruption: Corruption is negligible in only two countries - Tunisia
5) State support for ailing companies: Enterprises which fall into difficulties
receive the most state support in Tunisia, Egypt, Botswana.
6) Dependence on state: Degree to which companies depend on the state
- Least dependence in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
1) Rate of investment: Highest rate of investment at 25% of GDP in Lesotho,
Burkina, Mauritius, Tunisia and Botswana;
2) National savings: Botswana, Tunisia, Mauritius and Cameroon.
3) Confidence in the banking system: Highest confidence in Tunisia, Egypt,
Botswana, South Africa, Mauritius and Morocco.
4) Importance of personal relations in business transactions: Strongest
in Tunisia, Ethiopia, Namibia and Cote d’Ivoire.
1) Tarred roads: Over 80% in Tunisia, Mauritius, and Egypt.
2) Quality of roads: The best roads are in Namibia, Botswana, Tunisia,
Egypt and Mauritius.
3) Telephone density: Mauritius, with 195 lines per 1,000 inhabitants
takes the lead, followed by South Africa with 107 lines and Tunisia with
4) Access to the internet: Very good access is provided in Namibia, Tunisia,
South Africa, Mauritius and Morocco.
5) Clearing period for goods: Goods are cleared in five to 10 days in
Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa and Botswana.
6) Telephone charges: Lowest charges apply in Egypt, Tunisia and Mauritius.
7) Air transport: Best air transport performance occurs in Tunisia, Egypt,
Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
8) Quality of air transport: Only three countries provide high quality
air transport: Tunisia, South Africa and Egypt.
Population and Labour
1) Life expectancy: 70 years in Tunisia and Mauritius.
2) Infant mortality: Below 30 per 1,000 in Tunisia and Mauritius.
3) Primary schooling: Over 95% enrollment in Tunisia, South Africa and
4) Secondary schooling: Only one country, South Africa, has reached 95%
enrollment. Enrollment is 75% in Tunisia and Egypt, 68% in Mauritius.
5) Quality of primary and secondary education: Tunisia scores the highest
(5.18 and 5.27 out of a maximum 6 points) in both categories.
6) Absenteeism from work: Negligable in Tunisia, Morocco, South Africa
and Mauritius; very marked in Zambia and Malawi.
7) Labour days lost to strikes: Negligable in Ethiopia, Egypt, Tunisia
1) Legal status of contracts: Contracts receive the greatest legal respect
and fairest arbitration in only two countries: Tunisia and Botswana.
2) Impartiality of the judicial system: The highest marks were given to
Botswana, Namibia, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Mauritius.
3) Execution of judicial directives: Court orders are carried out most
rapidly in Tunisia, Botswana, Namibia, Egypt and Mauritius.
4) Quality, integrity and efficiency of security forces: Good in Tunisia,
Egypt and Morocco.
5) Impact of organised crime on business: Insignificant in Morocco and
6) Would the civil service function in the event of political instability?:
Most certainly in the case of Tunisia, followed by Botswana and Morocco.
Ranking: Competitiveness — Tunisia (1); Human Development - Tunisia (2).
Overall ranking in Africa - Tunisia (1).
as Tunisia chairs UN Security Council
Tunisia, which has
been a member of the UN Security Council since October 1999, began its
period as Chair of this all-important UN body on February 1, raising hopes,
particularly in the Middle East and Africa, of a more effective search
for peace and justice.
Outlining Tunisia’s role in this key international post, President Ben
Ali said his country was “committed to making the values of law and justice
prevail in accordance with the noble principles set out in the UN Charter.
Tunisia will continue to work actively in order to contain the hotbeds
of tension and conflict in the world and to make dialogue and consensus
prevail in the settlement of the problems posed.”
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Habib Ben Yahia has been touring a number
of Western capitals to gather opinion and coordinate the work of the Security
Tunisia's chairmanship of the Security Council has been widely welcomed.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said “We very much count on Tunisian diplomacy
for the settlement of the questions to be submitted to the Security Council.”
He also paid tribute to the Tunisian approach, initiated by Ben Ali, in
resolving international conflicts and combating poverty on a global scale.
(International Solidarity, inspired by the Tunisian model).
Ismat Adbul Magid, Secretary-general of the League of Arab States, also
expressed his deep satisfaction. “We are very optimistic about the role
Tunisia will play in the support for Arab, more particularly, Palestinian
causes,” he said.
Over the years, Tunisia has earned an excellent reputation world-wide
as both a mediator in conflict resolution and the stance it has taken
against poverty and the loss of human dignity in underdeveloped areas
of the world.
It has been involved in several peace-keeping operations as part of the
Blue Berets operations in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo and
other conflict areas.
Tunisia's diplomatic role in the Arab and Islamic spheres has become crucial.
Most recently, several Tunisian proposals over the Palestinian question
were adopted at an extraordinary summit of Arab countries in Egypt. It
is expected that during Tunisia's chairmanship of the Security Council,
many of these far-reaching proposals will become effective.
On the African continent itself, Tunisia serves not only a model of success
for others to follow, but also as a catalyst for new approaches to social
and economic problems.
Tunisia is rapidly becoming the hub around which the Mediterranean basin
resolves. Trade, cultural and other relations with Mediterranean countries
are intensifying. In November 2001, Tunisia will become the first country
in the region to host the Mediterranean Games twice.
On the wider international scale, Tunisia has been campaigning vigorously
for more transparency and democracy within the decision making structures
of the UN. It wants greater emphasis on the aspirations and interests
of the developing world and has proposed that the Security Council should
be expanded to include representatives from all regions of the world.
Tunisia's chairmanship of the Security Council promise plenty of exciting
new ventures, particularly for the developing world - and a genuine expectation
that a number of conflicts will be resolved.
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