Tunisia today is virtually unrecognisable from the country it was ten years ago. The economy has been growing at an average of 5.8%, inflation has been pegged down to 3.1% (1998), the budget deficit has been whittled down to 3% and is expected to hit a low of 2% by 2001, balance of payments deficit has stabilised at around 4.2% and external debt is no more than 17% of exports.
The change goes beyond statistics and is visible. Tunis and other major towns, Sfax, Bizerte and Sousse are spotless and function as efficiently as any Mediterranean European metropolis. Telecommunications and the postal system have been rationalised and are the most efficient in Africa.
The biggest change however is in the demeanour of people. The last 10 years have brought more and more people into the mainstream economy and Tunisia is now a true stakeholder society. The work culture has undergone a revolution and gains in productivity over the last five years have added a very impressive 30% to GNP. The target is to increase this figure to 40% by the end of the current development plan in 2001.
However, unemployment at 15% is still worrying the country's planners. "If we can achieve growth of around 7% per annum, we should reach full employment over the next decade," says Taoufik Baccar, the Minister for Economic Development. Realistically though, the country has set itself a target of 6% per annum which will bring unemployment figures down to single digit numbers.
Meanwhile, several measures have been instituted to alleviate poverty and create jobs. The National Solidarity Fund has raised over $300m to provide decent amenities for marginalised groups and equip them with income generating capacity. The newly created National Solidarity Bank gives promising entrepreneurs very soft start up loans.
Several infrastructure projects, hitherto the sole province of the state, are now being offered to local and international firms. Labour intensive enterprises can obtain plots for a nominal sum of a little as TD10.
All this adds up to a very robust economy, ideally positioned, both in terms of capacity and geographical situation, to confidently enter the euro zone in the first decade of the new millennium.
Tunisia's almost miraculous economic and social achievements since the change in 1987 are the result of "carefully walking the tightrope between ambition on the one hand and caution on the other," says Mohamed Ghannouchi, the Minister for International Cooperation and...