Tunisia needs investor vote of confidence from Macron visit

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to attend an economic summit and hold discussions on trade and security cooperation between France and Tunisia. (Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2018
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Tunisia needs investor vote of confidence from Macron visit

LONDON: Emmanuel Macron’s first visit to Tunisia on Wednesday comes at a crucial time for the country, which is reeling from widespread protests against austerity measures implemented in this year’s budget.
Thousands of Tunisians joined demonstrations against steep price hikes in January as years of anger over soaring unemployment and the rising cost of living bubbled into the streets.
The French president is due to attend an economic summit and hold discussions on trade and security cooperation between France and Tunisia. He is also expected to address the Tunisian parliament during his visit, which will last two days.
The two countries have strong economic and cultural ties that date from Tunisia’s history as a French colony before gaining independence in 1956.
Analysts said support from France could provide a lifeline for Tunisia’s parched economy, which has seen little progress since the overthrow of former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the 2011 revolution.
“France is Tunisia's first economic partner … the Tunisian government expects much support from the French,” said Tasnim Abderrahim, a Tunisian researcher at the European Centre for Development Policy Management.
This includes the possibility that Macron will agree to convert some of Tunisia’s debts to France, which amounted to around $1.6 billion in 2016, into investments. France was the second-largest investor in Tunisia in 2016 and is the country's largest trading partner in the European Union.
“Tunisia also expects more support from France at the EU level,” Abderrahim said, commenting on its recent removal from an EU tax haven blacklist after it was added last year in a move that was seen by the Tunisian government as “an unfair and unjustified decision that can only tarnish the reputation of the country.”
Economic uncertainty and two major terrorist attacks on tourist targets in 2015 have alienated international investors and deprived the Tunisian economy of much-needed investment.
Saad Aldouri, Research Analyst on the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House said that French backing could inspire confidence and attract investment to wean people off the public sector and into private sector jobs.
“It’s up to France to lend support…. public confidence from Macron in Tunisia would go a long way toward re-building their case.”
However, analysts say the visit is likely to offer more diplomatic niceties than solid economic support.
"We can expect a lot of nice words but it's unlikely that Macron can offer anything on the scale of what Tunisia needs,” said Emma Murphy, professor of Political Economy at Durham University.
"The economy just cannot grow fast enough to create the number of new jobs needed every year, let along quality jobs that meet the education-fuelled aspirations of many young people.
Unemployment stands at around 15 percent in Tunisia, but soars to an estimated 30 percent among the country’s youth population, according the UN International Labour Organization.
Many of the countries problems are internal and require comprehensive reforms, which, more than seven years after the revolution, still haven’t materialized.
“Welfare support, subsidies and work-related benefits have been eroded so the bulk of the population is getting relatively poorer...the entire model is stuck in a downward spiral,” Murphy said.
"Tunisia needs a Marshall Plan and Macron doesn’t have that kind of money or clout.”
However, the French president can lead the way in encouraging more EU countries to lend support.
“Europe as a whole and France in particular could do a tremendous amount to make life better and more promising for Tunisians by increasing their opportunity to export into European countries,” David Mack, an expert with the Middle East Institute and former US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
It’s also in Europe’s interests to do so, he added, with continued economic stagnation likely to result in “waves of migrations from Tunisia into Europe that would far exceed what has happened from Libya.”
“It’s the European countries that are going to be the primary victims if the situation in Tunisia continues to be stagnant economically.
“Macron and France could take an initiative for Europe to really make Tunisia economically prosperous and viable.”


Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa sit, during the launch of the party's election manifesto in Harare, Thursday, June, 7, 2018. (AP)
Updated 8 min 18 sec ago
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Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

  • Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats
  • In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition

HARARE: Zimbabwe’s divided opposition could bolster the long ruling party’s chances of victory after failing to forge a solid coalition for the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe.
Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats, scuttling a plan by the opposition to form a united front in general elections due on July 30.
But the real battle is seen to be between the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party which has posed the most formidable challenge to Zanu-PF’s grip on power.
The main presidential candidates are Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who succeeded Mugabe after a brief military takeover last November and Nelson Chamisa, 40, who took over as leader of the MDC following the death of opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
“The unprecedented numbers of aspiring candidates is an indication of the opening of political space and an interest by Zimbabweans to take part in politics,” said Rushweat Mukundu, of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe, ending his nearly four-decade rule in which he presided over the country’s economic and political decline, has vowed to hold clean elections and break from past history of violence-tainted polls.
Zanu-PF “has created the impression that it has broken from its past of violent and contestable elections, hence the unprecedented numbers of those who have come out to contest,” said Harare-based independent analyst Alexander Rusero, adding many have no following “beyond their small cliques and the churches they attend.”
“At best this is counterfeit democracy,” which festers confusion among the opposition while Mnangagwa enjoys the benefit of incumbency.
Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party, riven by factionalism which began as a battle over Mugabe’s succession, is also battling to stay together.

In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition, or stand as independents amid accusations of rigging and favoritism during primary elections.
“It’s not the number of candidates that’s worrying but the phenomenon of rebels who are insisting on standing without the blessing of their parties,” according to University of Zimbabwe’s Eldred Masunungure.
“This is going to have an impact on both Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance.”
Some 5.6 million people are registered to vote in the election which has attracted the interest of many first-time voters desperate for change in a country ruled by Zanu-PF rule since independence from Britain in 1980.
“I was born under Zanu-PF and all I have known is poverty and suffering,” said Harare street vendor, Takudzwa Mutepeya “for us this is a vote for change.”
Mnangagwa has pledged to revive the country’s moribund economy which took a toll from years of misrule, and to mend fences with Zimbabwe’s former Western allies who severed ties over the Mugabe regime’s tainted human rights record.
Chamisa has said, if elected, he will create a $100-billion economy in a decade.

Other candidates include Mugabe’s former deputy Joice Mujuru, ex-cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo, Thokozani Khupe from a breakaway faction of the MDC, and musician and sculptor Taurai Mteki.
Businesswoman Violet Mariyacha, 61, returned home after 25 years in Britain, to join the presidential race.
“I could not continue watching my people suffering,” she told AFP. “I came to be the new face of Zimbabwe’s politics.”
Human rights activist and presidential candidate Lovemore Madhuku is in the election “to introduce an alternative voice. We are fed up with ... having two dominant parties that are simply doing nothing except fighting each other.”
Previous elections have been marred by violence, intimidation and charges of electoral fraud including stuffing of the electoral roll with phantom voters including long-deceased people.
In 2008 the then opposition leader Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential run-off election citing the deaths of scores of his supporters.
The lead-up to the election has so far been calm. For the first time the state broadcaster covered the launch of the main opposition MDC’s manifesto live on television while police allowed a march calling for reforms including giving foreign-based citizens to right to vote without having to travel back home.