“The hope for democracy replaced corruption and abuse of power”

March 13th, 2011   Africa | North Africa

With democratic governments on the Southern coast of the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Morocco, this area constitutes a market of some 200 million people. Thus, the EU has everything to gain from supporting a peaceful, stable and democratic transition in these countries. The strategy of helping dictators in order to uphold stability has been proven wrong yet again, writes Susanna Haby.

Sometimes, the deeds of a single person can get groundbreaking consequences. The citizens of Tunisia received yet another proof of this in mid December last year. From one day to another, daily life changed.
Over the years, I have had the privilege to experience Tunisia through friends and family, from old to young, who have spent their entire lives in Tunisia. While most Tunisians have been able to put food on the table, poverty has been widespread in rural areas. In the Freedom House reports, Tunisia has been classified as un-free.

The Tunisian society is based on strong social ties between family and friends who take care of each other. In 1992, the fund 26/26 was created. Financed both with government money and voluntary contributions, the fund aims at relieving poverty among the poorest. It finances different projects in infrastructure and in the social sector. Recently, the citizens of Tunisia have found out that the expelled President and his family has found several ways to lay their hands on this money!

In many areas of Tunisia, tourism is the predominant labor. Together with textile, agriculture and mineral industry, this marked is completely dependent on Europe as the EU is Tunisia’s main trade partner. In the 60’s, many Tunisians moved to Europe to work. Others got the opportunity to study and many of them have remained in Europe. These exile Tunisians take a tremendous social and economy responsibility for their families who remain in Tunisia. Many of them return several times a year and invest in their own housing, land and different projects to help.

An important concern in daily life in Tunisia has been corruption within the government, authorities as well as the privat sector. The 50/50 principle imposed by Ben Ali’s family, also serves to strongly discourage foreign investments. (50 % of revenues have gone straight to the Presidential family. This money is often extracted using highly questionable methods).

As corruption has increased, decreased investment has resulted in unemployment and lack of development. This has hampered the country’s economy and its riches with severe poverty in several regions as the imminent result.

For the Tunisian people of today, this might be a chance to build a society free from corruption and abuse of power.

The interim government has, all things taken into account, has started solving several problems: Crisis commissions consisting of competent people are to deal with the judicial system, human rights and corruption issues, etc. An interim parliament develops new relations with the EU, one example being a conference where representatives from all EU member states are invited. However, there are concerns for the refugees from Libya and Algeria who will arrive to country which still lacks domestic stability.

Another cause for concern is faced by people working in companies owned by the family of the former President. They still do not know who will take responsibility for their employment and future wages. There are numerous cases of theft, vandalism and sabotage still and there are infiltrators among the activists who strive for upholding chaos for their own personal reasons. When this is written, the interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has resigned and been replaced by Beji Caid Sebsi who held the position as Tunisian minister for foreign affairs under President Bourguiba. Habib Bourguiba was the first President of the independent Tunisia and was replaced through a coup d’états in 1987.

The Tunisian people demand rapid change. We in the west know that change takes time and that everything cannot happen at once. The interim government has no experience and thus little possibility to communicate and explain this. Neither have they any tradition of how a country move from dictatorship to democracy – how to build strong institutions and authorities.

The European countries today have the possibility to help Tunisia to develop in the right direction. The question is how we can help most effectively?

Most Tunisians prefer investments to aid. We in Sweden can help Tunisia through investments, for instance joint ventures between Tunisian and Swedish companies. Thus, Swedish knowledge can contribute to growth while serving as an example on how to create a sustainable development.

With democratic governments on the Southern coast of the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Morocco, this area constitutes a market including some 200 million people. Thus, the EU has everything to gain from supporting a peaceful, stable and democratic transition in these countries. The strategy to help dictators in order to uphold stability has been proven wrong yet another time.

The Moderate party has a tradition of contributing to building democracy and centre right parties in among others the Baltic States. Now we need to help one of EU’s neighbors to achieve a democracy with free and fair elections and well functioning rule of law. The people of Tunisia have all possibilities to succeed, given their strength and knowledge. However, we need to support and assist in those things that they are not themselves able to deal with. While the political vacuum is getting filled by various left parties, centre-right parties remain scarce. This calls for worries in a country where Presidential and Parliamentary elections will be held as early as this year.

Susanna Haby
MP Moderate Party and member of
the Committee on European Union Affairs

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback.