By Hosni Mouelhi
After the 2011 revolution, a number of international actors became active and visible in Tunisia. They are involved in all areas of Tunisian life: economic, social, political, legal, and cultural. To achieve their goals, they work with the government and with civil society. Their assistance may be technical, by providing foreign expertise on a particular issue, or financial, by directly funding projects.
International aid for development can be differentiated from humanitarian assistance. While the latter aims to alleviate poverty or insecurity by providing assistance during crises or disasters, the former seeks to relieve poverty or under-development in the long run by addressing the economic and socio-political causes behind them.
Why do foreign countries spend money on Tunisia?
This is by far the most common question about foreign aid. It is not quite understood why some countries would allocate important funds to assist in the development of Tunisia. It is considered a trick question for those working in international development; a question usually served with a wily smile that barely masks its conspiratorial allegations. The answer, however, is very simple: UN Resolution 2626.
On October 24, 1970, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in which the developed nations agreed to dedicate 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) annually to official international development aid. The 0.7 percent target was set to be reached by mid-1970s. Only five countries of the twenty-three members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, a group of major donor countries, have crossed the 0.7 percent threshold.
Developed countries have an obligation to support developing ones and should be providing more assistance than they currently are.
Apart from UN obligations, development aid is sometimes crucial for promoting stability in regions facing deep economic or socio-political challenges. The exacerbation of a crisis in one county is soon felt by its neighbors. Instability is thus contagious. The fall of the pre-revolutionary Tunisian and Libyan regimes was responsible for the passage of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants from Africa into Europe, causing serious problems for the latter. The so-called “Arab Spring” has proven once and for all that South and North share a common fate. It is thus important for developed countries, especially European ones, to assist Tunisia in addressing national tensions and achieving sustainable development.
Where does the money come from?
In 2011, Tunisia received $849.5 million in aid from 25 different donors, including contributions from Turkey, Kuwait, UAE, and the Czech Republic, countries that are not traditionally considered major donors. The five main donors in 2011 were France, the EU, Spain, Japan, and Germany. The French contribution was the highest, slightly exceeding $375.6 million.
International aid fluctuates over the years. It may ebb or flow depending on the situations and priorities of donors. It may suffer from budget cuts, such as during the present period when most economies are weakened by recession.
Tunisia’s status as the cradle of the “Arab Spring” has given it a privileged position over the past two years. It has attracted funds from all over the world meant to support its transition. This influx will eventually decrease again, although France, for instance, has promised to double its aid to Tunisia next year.
Apart from assistance allocated by directly governments, government dollars also make their way to Tunisia through international organizations. The latter typically use funds made available by governments to finance programs in their field of expertise. For instance, if a country decides to allocate funds to support security sector reform in Tunisia, international organizations specializing in that area may apply for a part of that money to fund a program.
Some organizations also operate with money from private foundations. Organizations may rely on both sources, depending on their fundraising strategies and priorities.
Where does the money go?
International assistance may be involved in building roads, renovating schools, or protecting the environment. Foreign aid actors can be found in northwestern Tunisia promoting ecotourism or in the south protecting oases. They may assist young entrepreneurs or help the underprivileged achieve financial autonomy.
However, the less understood area of intervention is that related to political assistance. Many international organizations provide assistance, for example, in judicial reform by training judges and lawyers. Others assist political parties in capacity building through training and coaching of their members. In the media sector, apart from training journalists, some organizations act as watchdogs reporting violations of freedom of the press.
International organizations also monitor the human rights situation in Tunisia. These organizations investigate and report transgressions, some visiting prisons to speak with inmates. They raise awareness of human rights issues and contribute to mobilizing people around pivotal cases.
Assistance may also be delivered to the Tunisian government for legislative matters. The Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice was aided by international actors in drafting the Bill on Transitional Justice, which has been hailed by the international community for its high quality. The very first paragraph of the bill alone shows to what extent it has been influenced from international expertise. The paragraph refers to the ‘four pillars’ approach of UN Special Rapporteur Louis Joinet: the Right to Know, the Right to Justice, the Right to Reparation, and the Guarantee of Non-Recurrence.
International organizations and foreign governments helped in the training of thousands of observers who monitored the elections in 2011. International organizations may also raise public awareness about specific issues by organizing conferences, debates, or roundtables. They conduct research to provide a better understanding of specific fields, identify problems, and suggest solutions.
These aid donors provide technical and financial support to civil society organizations to protect human rights, develop principles of good governance, and develop social entrepreneurship, sometimes in the most inaccessible regions of Tunisia.