Tunisian politics neglected economics, says economist

'Social problems not faced by political sphere'

20 January, 17:07

    (ANSAmed) - TUNIS, JANUARY 20 - An economist focusing on North Africa and the Middle East told ANSAmed in an interview that Tunisia's mistake has been to neglect economic issues.

    ''Faced with what is happening these days,'' Clara Capelli, who spent 3 years working for the Africa Development Bank in Tunis, said, "we can speak once again about 'public order' and see only the turmoil, the rioting" and the acts of looting and vandalism reported by the media.

    "Or we can put forth the effort to ask ourselves what the roots of this anger and the structural lack of listening and attention that has responded to this anger. We can also go beyond the images of contingency and ask ourselves where it is coming from, how it was created, and how it accumulated. We can also ask ourselves what responses can be put forth for the future, moving beyond the approach of arrests and jail," she added.

    ''On the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the revolution of dignity," Capelli said, "it was repeatedly noted that the economic issue had been entirely neglected by the political sphere of these ten years. Despite the fact that the narrative of a stable country under Ben Ali was given the lie to by the protests and mobilisations of 2010-2011, the recipes and political economy measures did not target the causes of social problems: regional inequality (in terms of the inner parts of the country as well as outlying urban areas), unemployment, and underemployment in the informal sector, which accounts for almost half the country's GDP".

    Uprooting an economic model in ten years was impossible, especially given the International situation, but it should be said, she noted, that Tunisian politicians and businessmen simply did not even question it.

    She stressed that they continued to speak about attracting foreign investment (which, for the most part, involves coastal areas, especially due to logistics considerations), exports (the manufacturing sector is made mostly of parts and assembly, and is in any case of low added value and attracts due to low labour costs and the tax breaks offered by the offshore system, in the same manner as call centers and tourism), and start-ups.

    However, such a model does not necessarily lead to growth and redistribution: economic history of the past century proves the contrary.

    ''In parallel to the problematic economic model,'' Capelli continued, "the fight for the reconfiguration of power in Tunisia reduced the economic issue to empty slogans. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, among other donors, bear responsibility for having oriented Tunisian political economy in directions that did not lead to growth, development, and inclusion. However, the Tunisian political class, Ennahdha included - to the immense disappointment of many segments of society - did not fight in a visible and tangible manner for citizens for structural investment that would at least partially lessen regional differences or for effective employment policies." "All the protests, revolts, and mobilisations that were seen over the past ten years were instead dealt with a security issue, exactly as is being done now. It reminds me of 2016, or the statements by President Essebsi in 2017 on the army's intervention on the al-Kamour sit-ins. This is true especially in the outlying urban areas, which suffer immensely not only from marginalisation but also severe stigmatisation against the population and their young. We speak a huge amount about socio-economic hardship but we must not forget along the issue of 'hogra' (injustice, oppression, contempt) that the 'unprivileged' - if we prefer to use this term instead of calling it the oppressed and marginalised - are victims of at the hands of the bureaucracy, institutions, and police. And perhaps it is necessary to remember that one cannot escape 'hogra' even when you abide by the rules and public order,'' she concluded.(ANSAmed). (ANSA).

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