The 12th January marked the beginning of a series of civil unrest in Tunisia that saw people take to streets, both peacefully and violently, to oppose what they perceive as mismanagement of the economy almost 7 years to the day when the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouaziz sparked the beginning of the famed Arab Spring.
Organised and coordinated by the Popular Front, a leftist coalition of opposition parties the protests have lasted for, And resulted in almost 770 people being detained by the authorities and at least one person dead.
The reasons for the unrest is clear. The Western-led coalition, that also involved the IMF, have engineered a situation in which Tunisia finds itself indebted beyond what it can actually tolerate.
Following the 2011 revolution the G8 countries, IMF, Turkey and other actors devised a deal called the G8 Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition. This doctrine agreed to saddled Tunisia and other Arab countries with huge debt in return for the Arab states enacting neoliberal austerity policies that would, in theory, get the economy in order.
Christine Lagarde, Director of the IMF
Subsequently, Tunisia took on a $2.9 billion dollar loan. As a result debt as a % of GDP rose from 41% in 2010 to 71% in 2018. In an attempt to reduce the budget deficit the Tunisian government introduced a series of reforms at the beginning of this year that will see the public sector suffer forced early retirement, recruitment freezes wage freezes, and changes in fiscal policy including a rise in VAT, a regressive tax that hits the very poorest the hardest.
The Tunisian economy continues to grow (slowly albeit), and yet, rampant inequality persists with seemingly no end in sight. The unemployment rate currently stands at 15% and that figure doubles when considering the amount of unemployed young people.
Inflationary pressures have also added to the pressures that the Tunisian people face in what is still a relatively very young democracy. These contributing factors have forced the pot to finally spillover.
This looks like another example of meddling by Western countries that serves to do nothing but cause havoc. The world has witnessed it time and time again.
Often the countries in the receiving end are not in a position to resist the will of the western states. Coercion on a state level.
A Tunisian protestor readies to throw a rock at the police
Therefore, this puts the onus on those who reside on the Western states to firstly remain informed about the nature of our government’s actions abroad and hold the to account if it seems that the politicians elected to serve us are acting exploitative or not in good faith, particularly in regions as delicate as the Maghreb or Sahel.
It holds to reason that the western states are well within their rights to exercise their power and influence. Indeed, it’s how Western Europe was able to pick itself up after the second World War when America initiated the Marshall plan. However, these are two very situations. Tunisia, was in no position to take on the loan it did as it emerged out of a recent revolution. A cynical eye may come to the conclusion that this was situation was fostered by design.
Regardless, it shows that often countries are better off without the heavy touch that is direct Western intervention.
Further south, in Mali, the threat of Islamic extremism is an understated but very real danger that could potentially destabilise the region even further in what is often a long like of setbacks for African states. The story of jihadists in Mali is largely down to the fact that the Malian government does not have control of large parts of the country, which are instead governed by local tribe chiefs.
French and Malian coalition forces have been fighting Islamists for 5 years
At a Franco-British summit held at Sandhurst earlier this week Theresa confirmed her intentions to involve the UK in the counter-insurgency campaign in Mali. The UK government committed three military Chinook helicopters and up to 50 non-combat troops to the coalition forces – including France who have been involved in the conflict for five years – currently fighting jihadists in Northern Mali. If the past is anything to go by this may not prove to be the best idea, particularly as this conflict has already been described as ‘France’s Afghanistan‘.
As hinted to above, Western intervention is not inexorably disastrous. It has worked before. However, in this particular situation the general climate is already a very fine balance. From the battering ram that is the extortionate IMF loans or slight escalation in a conflict with the introduction of reconnaissance aircraft can be all it takes the tip the scale and cause the house to crumble.