Tunisia - Creating jobs AND citizens!

Ines Amri, 04 Aug 2016

Boosting the entrepreneurship ecosystem, opening up to the new waves of digital economies, and engaging the disengaged youth through education are Tunisia’s main channels to overcome high youth unemployment and to restructure and revive its economy both in the short and long terms. Opening up pathways to the current and future generations in the labour market in an environment that bring people together for wealth creation should be the utmost priorities of the current government policies.


In the last successive post-revolution governments – and despite the short-term policies to remedy the situation – there have been no conducive strong signals of economic changes yet. The Government should limit its interference and give way to the private sector to nourish, innovate and expand. The contribution of the private sector to the national GDP has declined from more than 70% before the revolution[1] to 63% in 2015[2], which reflects a rather state-driven economy heavily dependent on the public sector and isolated from the global economy dynamics. Unemployment rate reached its highest level in 2011 at 18.3% but dropped to 15.9% in 2013 and to 14.8% in 2014, then slightly increased back to 15.4% in the first quarter of 2016[3]. In 2014, youth unemployment rate reached as high as 31.8%[4] compared to a national average of 14.8%, thus increasing the risks of heightening social unrest triggered by lack of job opportunities, and ultimately contributing to the push factors that drive youth towards domestic violent extremism. The inability of the Government to tackle growing socio-economic grievances and the burdensome legal and financial frameworks that are blocking different fields in the private sector reflect a reluctance to develop national strategies and policies for transformational and structural change of the Tunisian economy.


Moreover, the educational and training systems that are disconnected from the economic reality have aggravated the situation even further. Indeed, the current educational system has proved to be a fiasco as it has been unable to equip today’s citizens to take their places in the Tunisian economy. Simply put, academic degrees are no longer a guarantee of a good job. There is a clear divergence between what types of human resources the job market requires and what the educational, as well as vocational systems produce. To equip the future workforce with the needed expertise, the curricula should be revisited and soft skills like communication, creative writing, leadership, critical thinking, strategic planning, self-marketing and public speaking should be taught and encouraged. The education system should prepare our children to help them navigate life and become entrepreneurs and leaders.


Against this daunting reality, Tunisia is suffering from “brain drain”. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, Tunisia ranked 133 out of 140 countries in ‘the labor market efficiency’ pillar of the 2015-2016 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index [5] The country again scores badly, ranking 118 out of 140 countries, in its capacity in retaining talent and 124 in attracting talent. Though this is a red flag, it also shows that there are a lot of areas of development if serious investment in promoting entrepreneurship and addressing the obstacles hindering SMEs were to take place. To fully succeed in achieving a paradigm shift, Tunisia’s economic environment needs to become competitive free from bureaucratic red tapes, subject to a fair taxation system, and allows easy access to markets and capital.


Yet, it does not need to reinvent the wheel as to build new industries; expanding and improving the existing and traditional sectors like agriculture, agro-industries and renewable energies will boost the Tunisian economy. But more importantly, it also needs to tap into new markets and new economic partners aside from the European countries. Increasing the Tunisian exports to the Asian countries – like China and India, and to the Americas will have a robust economic impact.  But what is more relevant and urgent is to leverage from the economic potential of its neighbor countries. With a cumulative population of 95.6 million in 2015[6], Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia can flourish together and create socio-economic opportunities despite the flagging global economic situation. The Maghreb countries can constitute a significant and influential political and economic region if South-South cooperation is more at play.


In this context, what the Tunisian government should do is to focus more on a future economic collaboration between the Maghreb countries. In other words, Tunisia would have better chances to flourish its economy by opening its borders, literally, for Maghreb products. Indeed, these types of new agreements could provide a safety buffer in the case of future economic crisis in the European Union that would affect the Tunisian economy. Indeed, looking at the case of Brexit, although this will not have a direct impact on Tunisia’s economy, still, many experts argue that it will have indirect repercussions in the medium and long term.


In sum, the economic and the educational sectors are intertwined. For this, the Tunisian government should take into consideration the conception and implementation of visionary reforms in both sectors to address barriers related to the existing legal and human resources frameworks and the business environment as a whole. In parallel, upscaling trade ties and knowledge exchange between the Maghreb countries- especially the Central Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) is the key pathway to creating more dynamics in job creation. 


[1] MAC SA, 2013. Le Secteur Privé Tunisien, Affronter L’amère Réalite. Intermédiaire en Bourse, Départment Recherches, [Online]. May 2013. Available at: http://www.macsa.com.tn/Downloader?sn=13055.

[2] Instauring an Advocacy Champion for Economy (IACE), 2016. La Compétitivité de l’Economie Tunienne: Le Bilan. Tunisia Economic Forum, [Online]. Available at: http://www.iace.tn/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/after_event/La%20Comp%C3%A9titivit%C3%A9%20de%20l%E2%80%99Economie%20Tunisienne-Le%20bilan.pdf 

[3] l'Institut National de la Statistique (INS) de Tunisie. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ins.tn/fr/themes/emploi#sub-374. [Accessed 22 July 2016].

[4] The World Bank. 2016. World Development Indicators Database. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/. [Accessed 22 July 2016].

[5] World Economic Forum, 2015. The Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016. [Online]. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/gcr/2015-2016/Global_Competitiveness_Report_2015-2016.pdf

[6] United Nations. 2016. World Population Prospects, Population Division. [ONLINE] Available at: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/. [Accessed 10 April 2016].


Ines Amri is the Deputy Secretary General/Director of the Maghreb Economic Forum (MEF), a Think-Do-Tank based in Tunis, and the Founder of the Will and Citizenship Organization (OVC), a Gabes-based Human Rights Organization (Southern Tunisia). She has significant experience in designing, leading, monitoring, and evaluating programs and social entrepreneurship projects. She was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, and a Legislative Fellow at the US Congress, where she gained hands-on experience on policy analysis, reforms proposals, public policies, advocacy, and lobbying. She has also taught for more than ten years at Tunisian public schools. 


The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of neither the Arab Development Portal nor the United Nations Development Programme. 

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