The number of tourists that visited Tunisia thus far in 2017 reached 4.58 million according to the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism in a statement reported by the local media. The Tunisian radio did not specify, however, what was the rate of tourism growth compared to the same period of last year. According to FM Radio Express, tourists from neighbouring countries numbered 1.45 million of this overall figure, or 60.7% more compared to 2016. Up by 16%, the increase in the number of European tourists is also substantial, per the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism of the anticipated total 6.5 million tourists this year. These statistics were however objected to in Tunisia where some observers noted that these included all non-residents, i.e. Tunisians living abroad as well as a decreasing number of sub-Saharan students in Tunisia. Wagdy Sawahel, in a University World News of September 1st, 2017, Issue No:472 elaborates on this particular segment.
A series of new measures to reverse the sharp decline in numbers of Sub-Saharan African students in Tunisia over the next three years has been unveiled. Numbers of Sub-Saharan students in Tunisia have fallen from 12,000 in 2010 to 4,000 for the 2016-17 academic year, according to figures presented at the first meeting of the Tunisian African Empowerment Forum held at the Palais des Congrès in Tunis, Tunisia from 22-23 August. The forum was organised by the Tunisia-Africa Business Council, or TABC, in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia. The new measures, aimed at growing the number of Sub-Saharan students to 20,000 by 2020, were outlined at the forum. They include a greater focus on the internationalisation of Tunisian higher education, promotion of Tunisia as a desirable destination for students from Sub-Saharan Africa and the development of mutual trust between Tunisia and the Sub-Saharan region. A web-based platform has also been developed to encourage greater interest from and support for African students. Cooperation strategy The above measures are geared towards the implementation of the Tunisian-African higher education cooperation strategy, which was discussed at the forum. The strategy is based on two axes: the sharing of Tunisian expertise and bringing more students from all countries on the continent to Tunisia. Against this backdrop, cooperation agreements have been initiated by Tunisia with Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and South Africa. Official figures presented at the forum indicated that foreign students make up 2.5% of the total student population. Among this proportion, 74% are African students from 40 countries, 29% being from Sub-Saharan Africa. As many as 98% of foreign students in Tunisian private universities are Africans. Besides having 13 public universities which serve approximately 260,000 students including 6,000 foreigners, Tunisia has 72 private institutions of higher education that serve 32,000 students including 4,000 foreign students. Last month’s forum identified several factors hindering the intake of African students into Tunisian higher education. According to the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia, established in 1993 to advocate on behalf of Tunisia’s Sub-Saharan community and promote Sub-Saharan culture, over 60% of requests for permission to study in the country by African students are not granted. Racism A TABC study also highlighted the problem of racism towards Sub-Saharan students in Tunisia, which has manifested recently in the form of physical and verbal violence targeting Sub-Saharan Africans. These attacks have been covered in local news reportsand the vulnerability of students from Sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia was highlighted in a video report available on YouTube. At present, the Tunisian government is considering a draft law against racism and discrimination.
Mack Arthur Deongane Yopasho, president of the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia, described the racism against the students as a “situation that ruins the lives of Sub-Saharan students [who are] often forced to desert Tunisia to continue their studies in Morocco”. Reports indicate that about 18,000 postgraduate students from Sub-Saharan Africa study at Moroccan universities. Cultural awareness Manar Sabry, Middle East and North Africa region editor for the Comparative and International Education Society newsletter and a higher education expert at Binghamton University, State University of New York, told University World News that an important first step in combating racism is raising awareness of Sub-Saharan cultural traditions on Tunisian campuses. “Teaching courses in schools and universities on racism and multi-cultural education will help Tunisians recognise their implicit biases. Implementing programmes that bring both student groups together for celebrations of African holidays will increase appreciation of national differences and spread a message of inclusive diversity,” she said. “It is vital that administrators provide institutional support for African students in the development of their own co-curricular clubs and activities.” She said faculty should also undertake proactive actions to recruit more African students to Tunisian universities. “It is essential to cultivate an image that appeals to international students and remove the financial boundaries that prevent highly qualified students from applying,” she said. “This step is essential in creating a minority African population on campus that is large enough to form interpersonal social networks that will reduce feelings of alienation,” she said. Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, professor of genetics and molecular biology at the National Research Centre in Egypt, welcomed the launch of a Tunisian-African higher education cooperation strategy. “This strategy is a good start to enhance North Africa-Sub-Saharan Africa cooperation in higher education in order to promote student and staff exchange as well as facilitating knowledge and best practices transfer among universities across the African continent”, Abd-El-Aal said.
Here is a story written by Christin Roby@robyreports and published by Devex on 28 August 2017 that is a good recollection of what is happening in the outer edges of the MENA region. In fact, it is in the Sahel region that borders the south of all the North African countries (see map below) from as it were the Atlantic coast to its Indian counterpart coast. The narrated events in this particular story happened to have all occurred in what is called Azawad since time immemorial by the North African Berber populations. These populations are known throughout North Africa as Blue Men or Tuaregs for their nomadic roaming notably in the south-eastern limits of the Sahara. Azawad is the country to be but never made it to go it alone beyond that April day of 2012. Read more in the republished here story of Christen Roby.
MOPTI, Mali — Two separate attacks on U.N. peacekeeping bases in Mali earlier this month have escalated security concerns for NGOs and international organizations in the country’s northern and central regions. The already-volatile area has seen a rise in incidents against NGOs in recent months, and analysts fear local extremist groups may be forming in the country’s central and southern regions in response to limited governance.
The insecurity is wreaking double havoc: It has increased humanitarian needs, as public services deteriorate and livelihoods are compromised. Meanwhile, aid organizations are struggling to operate and address those needs given the complex safety risks.
“In this insecurity and fighting, you have elements who simply don’t respect humanitarian organizations and, in fact, they openly target humanitarian organizations,” John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Devex. “The influence we have and our ability to negotiate respect for and security for our operation in an environment in central and northern Mali has limitations,” he said.
The attacks on U.N. peacekeepers on August 14 took place in Timbuktu, in Mali’s north, and Douenza, in the central region. In the former case, armed assailants targeted the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s headquarters, leaving six dead. One peacekeepers and a Malian soldier died in the second incident.
For aid organizations, the primary threats include thefts, carjacking and kidnappings. In a reminder of the risks, militants released a video of hostages abducted as early as 2011 just ahead of a visit to Mali by French President Emmanuel Macron in early July. Though one of the hostages, South African Stephen McGown, was released a few weeks later, the incident rattled the aid community. Relief groups have developed personalized security protocols to cope with ever-present risks. Security experts also urge the development community to work with and through local partners at all stages of programming and implementation to mitigate risks and build trust.
A backdrop of insecurity
Mali has maintained a high-security risk profile since 2003, when Algeria’s militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat fled across into the country’s northern region. The country today is home to overlapping conflicts, including between roaming pastoralists and farmers, as well as jihadists groups.
Though Islamic militant groups have had no territorial control since the French operation, Vincent Rouget, West Africa analyst at the global risk consultancy firm Control Risks, said they have “proven very mobile, very agile and very capable of evading surveillance and conducting attacks increasingly outside of their stronghold in the desert north.”
The crumbling security situation in this landlocked country may pose a threat to neighbouring countries, experts told Devex. The countries making up the Sahel region — Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — launched the G5 Sahel Joint Force earlier this summer to combat Islamist militants. Even with large financial support from the European Union, from France and from each country making up the force, Rouget believes that the deployment of more forces will not necessarily be an effective solution to this problem. He said the approach, in some cases, could even exacerbate tensions and lead to more discontent with the presence of expatriates.
The deteriorating security situation is having a devastating impact on the local population, said Ging. “People are really exposed to very dangerous, volatile and difficult situations … and that feeds directly into the escalation in their need and dependency on humanitarian support because they are negatively impacted in their own capacity to cope,” he said.
During his visit to the Mopti region in April, Ging found that nearly 300 schools were closed, more than double the amount closed last year. Across the greater central and northern Mali, 507 schools were closed out of 2300 schools total.
Providing desperately needed humanitarian support has also proved a daunting task, often obstructed by the highly uncertain situation, Ging told Devex.
Security risks now extend across the central region of Mali, impacting even the traditionally stable towns of Sevare and Segou. The lack of government presence in these areas has provided fertile ground for Islamic militants and radical discourse to take hold, Rouget explained.
Militants in this area tend to be decentralized, he said. While operating under the Al Qaeda umbrella, they work independently from one another, making them more difficult to root out. Rouget described them as local cells fighting against the state.
Experts working in the Mopti region are divided over whether these groups have specific targets, or whether the insecurity is more generalized. A UNOCHA representative in Mali argued that attacks happen to all types of people, not just aid workers. Whereas, an office manager for an aid relief agency told Devex that the U.N. and NGOs are singled out.
Rouget sees militants targeting those they consider “crusaders,” or Western nationals and those working with them, including French soldiers, U.N. peacekeepers, Malian military and gendarmerie and NGOs. In order to gain local support, these groups usually attempt to avoid Muslim casualties, he said. Attacks are often highly targeted, avoiding large scale suicide bombings employed by other jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, for example.
According to the Mali chapter of the International NGO Safety Organisation, incidents against NGOs are on track to be double compared to last year. As of June 2017, the country saw 98 incidents compared to a total of 114 NGO incidents in 2016.
Tomas Musik, INSO section director responsible for operations in Mali, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounts this significant increase in overall security incidents to a rise in criminality.
“This rise is due in part to the political context which remains unabated between pro-government security forces and opposition groups, which you could qualify as the radical jihadi groups,” Musik said.
Carjackings are particularly common, usually impacting NGOs and aid workers, as they tend to be the ones using vehicles. “There is some targeting which is not related to an NGO mandate or lack of acceptance from the community, but which is rather due to lack of exposure and the fact that NGOs remain present very extensively in the field and compared to presence of government or private sector,” he said.
Keeping aid workers safe
To increase aid worker safety, experts recommend international organizations work more closely with local populations. No white expatriates currently work in Mali’s central region.
“Humanitarian organizations work very much at the basis of community acceptance, so a central part of how humanitarian organizations enhance their own security is direct engagement with community leaders: Seeking support and respect from them for the humanitarian activities whether it’s the staff, the locations, or the movement of supplies,” Ging told Devex.
Musik stressed the importance of delivering quality work and assistance to communities, involving the local populations to define needs and targeted response plans, and making sure that the community feels represented.
“Groups must have a really sound understanding of geography because the threat varies hugely across regions and across localities,” Rouget added. He said it is critical to understand if an imminent threat exists, or if an area only experiences sporadic attacks. For single visits, he said, it is important to consider details such as choice of hotels and restaurants, as well as where one spends time outside the office, since many large attacks in Mali have occurred during weekends.
“As an organization, what you can do is provide your staff who are deployed [in unstable zones] with training and get them properly equipped to face hostile environments, and also more broadly to try to instill a culture of security awareness, which is not necessarily easy to do with NGOs and humanitarian aid workers but really make staff aware of the threat level and make sure they don’t take unnecessary risks,” Rouget urged.
Christin Roby is a West Africa correspondent for Devex based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire where she covers global development trends, health, technology and policy-related topics. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms, and earned an MSJ in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.