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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hard times for Tunisia

Published at the German Magazine D+C Development and Cooperation

If the nation looses too many of its marginalised youth to Islamist extremism, it cannot gain stability. Security measures alone will not do, because economic development and social equity matter just as much. 
On 18 March, the international community was shocked by the terror attack at Bardo Museum in Tunis. 21 people, mostly European tourists, were killed. On 26 June, the international community stood shocked again with the tragedy of Sousse, where a fanatic murdered 38 tourists. This attack occurred in the holy month of Ramadan.
Sadly, terrorism has been haunting Tunisia since early 2013.  Attacks occurred during Ramadan in 2014 and 2013 too. The Islamist hardliners want Tunisia’s young democracy to fail.
After the revolution toppled the Ben Ali dictatorship in 2011, I think terrorism started with the assassination of the opposition leader Chokri Belaid in February 2013. A few months later, Mohamed Brahmi, another leftist leader and member of the National Assembly, was also killed. Obviously, religious fanatics hated the secular politicians. In view of the assassins’ impunity, unrest grew.
Since early 2013, over 40 Tunisian soldiers have been killed in terror attacks. One of them was deadliest on the Tunisian Army since the country’s independence in 1956.
Recently, terrorists have been shifting from military and security targets to civilian and urban ones. Because the victims of the Sousse and Bardo massacres were mainly foreigners, travel warnings have been expressed, and fewer tourists are now spending the summer in our country.
Tourism is a vital sector of the national economy. Its revenues reduced the country’s trade deficit by 50 % last year. Sousse is one of the main tourism sites. It contributes about 14 % to gross domestic product and employs about 12 % of the work population.
Most people in Sousse directly or indirectly depend on tourism, and terrorism also affects related sectors, such as food and beverage, transportation, crafts, banks and archaeological sites. More generally speaking, the business climate is deteriorating. Foreign investors appear to be loosing interest. But investing in Tunisia at this crucial time is actually investing in strengthening our democracy.
No doubt, national security, the democratic process, macro-economic stability and efforts to improve socio-economic equality are at risk. Nonetheless, the country has witnessed poorly coordinated government strategy in response to the escalation of terrorist operations and propaganda. The root causes have not been tackled.
Instead of looking for long-term solutions, public debate is focused on who is responsible for the country’s vulnerability. This was a polarising issue in recent election campaigns. Yes, the security forces look overstretched, underequipped and unable to master the problems. Nonetheless, the security sector in itself cannot provide the solution.
Because of terrorism, government expenditure on education and infrastructure is being cut, so funds can be used for security purposes. Hyperactivity, however, does not help. In the three months after the Bardo Museum atrocity, the government claims to have carried out 7,000 security operations, arresting 1,000 people and stopping 15,000 people from travelling to fight jihad abroad. It is impossible to verify such information, and effectiveness is not guaranteed. The heroism, however, of the Sousse hotel staff has been the story of many survivals.
Tunisian attempts to improve security, however, did not stop the UK government from ranking Tunisia in the same danger category as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. After Sousse, it urged all British tourists to leave the country, and some 2000 did so.
The underlying problem is that economic recession is radicalising young people. Jobless youngsters in marginalised towns are attracted by Islamist rhetoric. They consider themselves victims and even martyrs of a secularist regime, rather than criminals threating the democratic progress. Young people do not get the needed support and leadership opportunities, so ISIS looks attractive. Police repressions is a problem too.
Rap star Emino traded his career to join the ISIS militia after being arrested for political lyrics and experiencing police brutality. An estimated 3,000 young men have joined ISIS. If Tunisia looses too many of its alienated youth, it cannot gain stability. European partners should take note. Failure to support the region’s first real democracy will come back to haunt Europeans.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

People Powered Accountability Discussion at the AfDB Annual Meetings #AfDB2015

The Forum for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has been just an idea few years ago. However, last week, during its 2015 Annual Meetings in Abidjan, the African Development Bank hosted a full day of panels and discussions dedicated to CSOs. The CSO Forum is aiming at promoting closer cooperation and engagement among CSOs, the Bank, and regional member countries in order to optimize development results and sustain development impact.

About 50 participants representing a diverse group of CSOs attended the event. Different sessions have provided a platform for learning and exchange on how best to cooperate with CSOs.

"People-Powered Accountability" Panel ignited an interesting discussion. Aloysius Ordu, the director of partnership for Transparency, gave a presentation on People powered accountability. He showed the 2014 Index on Corruption highlighting that “Information is power but more importantly is what you do with information”. He raised the questions on how do we scale up as many of the CSOs operate on accountability traps so they can’t scale it up nationally or continentally. Countries, indeed, “look good” but they are trapped in low accountability. Ordu used an interesting metaphor of voice and teeth to emphasize the tide connection; voice being the citizen capacity for collective action and Teeth being the accessible accountability institutions.

“Corruption is a not a myth it’s a reality”, commented Neil Cole, the Executive Secretary of Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) “. He raised the question “what is that still causes corruption in governance as if none of those laws is in place?” He stressed that even within countries that have wonderful constitutions, the question is about the systems that are not robust enough to eliminate and detect corruption when there is a corrupt act.
I was glad also to see the bloggers voice at the panel with the Ghanian blogger, Kinna Likimani. “It’s not just corruption or bad governance, it’s everything else in the environment from disrespect, lack of human rights, lack of inclusion to silencing voices”, she said. Kinna has given many tangible examples of corruption in Ghana suggesting that everyday life is a negotiation of an environment of corruption because “you will not be accorded your rights”. So we eventually buy our respect as citizens, and the leadership takes advantage of that. The solution for Kinna is to educate the people because she is tired of “policy, policy, policy with no implementation”

It was fair enough to bring the voice of the Bank itself, represented by Anna Bossman, the Director of Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department (IACD). Her intervention started by stressing that “Corruption is real when you look at the map, statistics and indicators, but at the end corruption is about people beyond that jargon”. As the moderator directly asked her “What makes the bank a non-corrupt institution?”, Ms.Bossman explained that “the ADB promotes integrity and accountability by strengthening its rules and regulations, investigates, gives trainings to the staff and has recently launched the Citizen Charter”.

Then she directed her talk more towards the collaboration between the bank and CSOs “We need you but you also need the bank, you are the people on the ground who can tell us where corruption is taking place and we have facilities, information and platforms through which you can engage”.

As the moderator started getting questions from the audience, Ms. Graca Machel entered the room. She has been then given the floor for a final word by the end of the panel, where she stressed on regional collaboration. "We are playing the game in a very unequal environment with government, business, parliament and judiciary institutions that have resources which CSOs don’t. CSOs have to be strong enough to face all these institutions to be taken seriously". She raised the question on how to strengthen the institutional capacity of CSOs as strong to play their role on equal basis. She continues "African institutions, including the bank, are not realizing that the citizen voice is fundamental to strengthen democracy". She ended by calling on the CSOs present to work regionally and unite to make "our voice heard". She gave an example of her organization New Faces New Voices which operates in 15 countries.

The panel was interesting indeed but not much time has been given to the CSOs representatives actually to talk and challenge the panelists and themselves. There has been a long silence about the constriction of the civic space, before a shout out came from the audience that the space of civil society is shrinking.“While we are here, civil society activists are imprisoned in Egypt and Ethiopia and internet has been shut down in Burundi, you might be afraid of governments (towards the bank) but you need to call on them when they violate those spaces”. There is a need to have more shout outs like this from the CSOs on the Bank and other institutions to call on countries to give us back the civic space because without that space, CSOs cannot thrive. 

CSOs act as intermediary at all stages and play key role. They should be the ones that raise community awareness of their rights and empower citizen groups for collective action. So, CSOs need to get organized to challenge and to deliver.

The session ended with a clear message that the bank has to do its homework on how much it is taking CSOs seriously and supporting them as much as it supports business and governments. On the other hand, CSOs need do their own homework on how to work together in this unequal space and collaborate on strategic issues so that their voices are much stronger.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Collective Struggle & Solidarity is Africa Unity #AfricaDay

Over the past years, our African unity has been tested constantly to realize that unity is not a one-day celebration or a mere occasional response to threatening events happening across the continent. Unity, instead, shall be a continuous collective struggle and solidarity.

For the past year, Africa has not healed from pain, bloodshed and diseases. From Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the recent crimes in South Africa, and the disaster of endless deaths of Africans sinking in the middle of the Mediterranean; from Al Shabab attacks in Kenya, to the Islamic State killings in Libya, and to Boko Haram massacres in West Africa - a similar pattern of extreme brutality spreading across.

I’m afraid that our sufferings will become normalized and our people will become just numbers and statistical tragedies on indices…

Early this year, over a million people flooded the streets of Paris with more than 40 world leaders participating, protesting the vicious murders of 17 people, including 12 journalists at Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine. While masses marched side by side in the rally at the Boulevard Voltaire, similar tragedies were unfolding on Africa. Just four days before the Paris attacks, Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria (and now in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and the Republic of Niger) carried out its deadliest attack, where more than 2,000 people were slaughtered, including children and women.

These events, when reported in Western media, drew no attention for mass solidarity, but instead, all it could bring to us was travel alerts, tourism and investment threats, and foreign intervention to step into resolving our crises because of the absence of our leadership. Has anyone organized an international protest against the African massacre? Have any African leaders flown to Abuja, Nairobi or Tunis to stand in solidarity with each other?

Likewise, the global outrage over the Chibok abductions, where more than 200 girls still remain kidnapped, was intense but short-lived. The attention of international media soon faded and leadership reaction has been shortsighted. That’s why the kidnapping, killings and abuse by Boko Haram have continued unabated.

I don’t have answers to why these atrocities continue to intensify; I have even more questions. When are we increasing our vigilance and strengthening our collective stand against those who commit such atrocities? When are we starting to treat Africa as our borderless united motherland and not as small divided territories?

The solution to face these atrocities on the continent is not only to ensure short-term security measures or aid, but mainly to work on social and economic development. When are we starting to have a serious talk about economic integration? When are we implementing serious intracontinental collaboration in the attainment of Africa’s development objectives? Africa’s prosperity, as a united continent, will depend essentially on tighter political, trade and economic integration.

As we continue losing our natural and human resources, I am also afraid we are losing our confidence in our civilization, our pre-colonization history, our common identity and ourselves. Usually the unions play a major role in protecting the civilizational values, but our African Union (AU), previously known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU), has failed spectacularly. The AU is strongly based on important principles of unity and pan-Africanism. However, most of us either do not know them, or do not live our lives by them.

African Unity is not only about solidarity within the continent but also our collective response outside. AU member states have rarely voted together in international fora to safeguard common African interests. Regional institutions have had no uniformed mutually beneficial policy towards interacting with outside powers because most of the African countries are eventually bought off by former colonial powers. Sadly, the leaders unite only behind the AU, ECOWAS, CEMAC or SADC to protect each other when abusing and censuring their citizens.

Looking towards the future, we need:
  • A renewed focus on what unites us and in finding our common interest to build a peaceful and prosperous common homeland that allows its citizens and youth to flourish.
  • A united political will to move forward together in solving our problems at continental level, and not turning our backs on our neighbors’ problems.
  • A celebration of our differences as our diversity and our diversity as our unity - a shift in dealing with Africa’s cultural differences that led to the divide and rule by outsiders.
  • To resolve our disputes always through peaceful means that would enable us not to be exploited or manipulated.
  • To unite our youth movements in a common vision to lead the next generations on a solid foundation of values and unity.
While many of our leaders may have forgotten the treasure of wisdom our ancestors handed down to us, the rest of us should not. So let’s remember the African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

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