Jan 29, 2023
‘There Is No Hope Left’: Five Charts Show Tunisia’s Descent
(Bloomberg) -- When Tunisian President Kais Saied visited a cafe in a working-class district of the capital recently, a group of young men served a terse dose of realism. “There is no hope left,” one said.
Such sentiments aren’t unusual in Tunisia, where many are frustrated by both a slide in living standards since the 2011 Arab Spring revolts and food shortages in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A potential bailout from the International Monetary Fund may be accompanied by cuts in government spending and further economic hardship, though it’s not clear how quickly funds will trickle in.
Tunisia Downgraded by Moody’s as IMF Financing Remains Elusive
As Tunisia holds a second round of parliamentary elections Sunday, the following five charts show the depth of the North African nation’s social and economic crisis.
Factoring in estimated 2.5% growth in 2022, Tunisia’s economic pie is still smaller than it was before the overthrow of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. The population has grown some 12% in the past decade, and about a fifth of the country now lives in poverty.
Inflation Speeds Up
Inflation looks set to deliver more pain for Tunisians this year after the consumer price index hit double digits in 2022 — its highest level in 30 years. The country has seen sporadic shortages of key food items over the past 12 months. Earlier in January, oil-rich neighbor Libya sent wheat, rice and sugar as assistance.
Tunisians appear to have had it with elections and voting. Participation has fallen since Saied assumed sweeping powers in July 2021 and suspended parliament, moves critics dubbed a coup. Just 11% of the electorate took part in December’s initial parliamentary vote, one of the world’s lowest turnouts for any major election. Meanwhile, the national journalists’ union reports growing media censorship and physical and verbal attacks in recent years.
Lack of Jobs
Youth unemployment rose to 37.8% in the third quarter of 2022, up from 35.4% in 2019, the year Saied, a law professor, rode a wave of popular discontent with the political establishment to win the presidential election. The rate peaked at 42.5% in the last quarter of 2020, its highest since Tunisians ousted Ben Ali.
Tunisian youth are fleeing by sea to Europe at the highest rate since before the Arab Spring. Last year about 18,000 arrived in Italy, the destination for the vast majority of illicit migrants, while twice that number were intercepted en route to Europe. The voyage is fraught with risks — about 580 people either drowned or were reported missing after leaving Tunisian shores in 2022.
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