What Tunisia’s politicians must hear from the next generation
The sad spectacle of Tunisian politicians sniping in parliament or in the ranks of the main ruling Nidaa Tounes party is only adding to the scepticism of Tunisian youth about the direction their country is heading. One of the major problems, however, remains the unaddressed demands of young people.
Scepticism about politicians and the inability of post-revolution governments to deliver have led to a great part of Tunisia’s 20- and 30-something demographic abstaining from voting in parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2014. That sense of disappointment endures.
Ahmed Hamza, an entrepreneur and social activist from Kairouan, who is within that age bracket, noted his disappointment. “I cannot honestly say it is better now,” he said, referring to life pre-revolution versus now. “Corruption levels have increased and I can clearly see the old regime getting its way smoothly into the system.
“The only thing that has really changed is freedom of expression. Things are better in that regard and the government is being more careful with [non-governmental organisations] and activists but that also is at risk,” he added. “Things have improved slightly, with democracy being at risk more than ever.”
During the first three-plus years of Islamist-led government after 2011, there were many pronouncements but no tangible achievements. Jihadism reared its head and the country regressed economically with the loss of jobs, foreign investment and increased security problems underscoring the regression.
This point of view is shared by the middle class, which is wary about an eroding standard of living and the spread of corruption. Rahma, 26, an architect who recently returned from a year working for the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, said: “The main problem still remains corruption. The ways are the same; people controlling the money are the same, only the heads have changed. The main difference is that most people are no longer passive. There is also a lack of vision. What is the government’s vision to solve the country’s many ills?”
Zouhair Bouallagui, a civil society actor who hails from Kasserine, a region of the south-west seen as symbolic of development neglect, with high poverty and unemployment rates, said: “Many Tunisians believed the revolution represented a tipping point for this country. Expectations were very high. Since those expectations are not being met, there is a sense of frustration, dissatisfaction and anger, expressed in many ways. In this respect, I feel that Tunisia was better before.”
According to an Alert International survey, 10% of youth in the working class neighbourhood of Douar Hicher say their lives have improved since the revolution.
There is dissatisfaction with overall government management. “We cannot see a big change despite the fact that a revolution is one of the biggest changes that a nation can have,” Bouallagui said. “The Ben Ali’s administration performance was better. Corruption has become even more pervasive and the country’s security, which had been a safeguard for Tunisia is now threatened.”
Tunisia faces many challenges in the areas of economy, job creation and political democratisation. But without incorporating the country’s educated youth, the very segment of Tunisians that carried out the revolution, the future can be precarious. Tunisia’s politicians need to focus on policies that will help move Tunisia forward, incorporate the next generation of Tunisians and remember that as elected officials, they must put the country over their political parties.
The most serious issue remains the inability of the economy to generate sufficient jobs. Recent official figures show the unemployment rate is not decreasing. Joblessness tops 15% and is more than 32% for university graduates. For women, the predicament is even more dire. On average, 22% of women are unemployed; for women university graduates, the percentage of joblessness is more than 42%. Hardly the deserved reward for women who have been always at the vanguard of change in Tunisia.
December 2015 marks one year since Tunisians had their first, free, presidential elections since the January 2011 revolution. But Tunisia’s democracy is threatened by insecurity and chronic socio-economic ills. It is time for Tunisia’s recently elected leaders to show leadership and reverse the country’s regression or they risk another bout of turmoil.