The sale of dates from disputed farmland in Kebili, which the community has used to fund several local initiatives went ahead as scheduled yesterday, despite government opposition.
Earlier today, the Ministry of Domains of the State and Land Affairs issued a statement in which they promised to prosecute all those involved in the sale and said that this auction has no legal grounds.
Villagers at Kebili had originally occupied the oasis in 2011 and have been using its annual harvest to fund various civic improvements since. Yesterday’s auction for the dates harvested by villagers on the land at the Jemna oases generated some 1 700,000 Tunisian Dinars, dwarfing the revenue generated by the land before the revolution.
Several politicians traveled to the oasis in Jemna, Kebili, where they either expressed their support for the actions of the Association for the Protection of Jemna’s Oases or attempted to mediate between all parties involved within the dispute.
Despite its illegal standing, the Association has received widespread support, particularly from those who live in the nearby village, as the Association uses the income from the oases to help maintain the local infrastructure. So far, revenue from the sale of dates has built a new marketplace, along with a sports hall, new class rooms at the local primary school, an ambulance and more.
Hamma Hammai, spokesperson for the Popular Front, visited the Oases of Jemna on Saturday where he expressed his solidarity with the people there . In a statement issued to Shems FM, he said that the output of the oases of Jemna has multiplied dozens of times since the locals started to operate it. He added that the experience of the Association for the Protection of Jemna’s Oases shows that agriculture could very well be part of the solution for the social and economic crisis that currently engulfs Tunisia. Hammami also said the government feared other regions duplicating the success of Jemna.
Abdellatif Mekki, Ennahdha deputy and former Minister of Public Health, was also present at the sale. Speaking to Mosaique FM, he said his presence in Jemna was to find a solution for the dispute between the state and the Association. “The solution lies with a serious negotiation that would be politically framed by the different political forces.”
The statement from the Ministry says that what happened in Kebili won’t give any legitimacy to what they described as a “null act with public property,” adding that the Tunisian state will continue with its duty to protect public property by following all administrative and civil means the law provides. They promised that getting back public property is done in order to make better use of it and to make everyone profit from its proceeds.
Member of the Popular Front and Constitutional law professor, Ahmed Safi, told Tunisia Live that the dispute arose in Kebili following the vast difference of income the land generated before 2011 (16,000 dinars) and the present (1 700,000 dinars). “We believe the real owners of these lands are the people who take care of it, who are revitalizing it and who are making good use of its incomes, not the government that has neglected it” he told Tunisia Live. Safi suggested the experience at Jemna should be followed in other regions, but under terms agreed centrally wit the state. Under Safi’s proposal, regional offices would serve to protect the production and its quality, and the government would provide long-term rent permits for lands for young farmers. Safi also insisted on the importance of fighting corruption as it is one of the main reasons behind the current Jemna dispute and the weakening of the overall agricultural output of the country.
Prior to working as a journalist, Inel worked as a computer programmer. Inel is fluent in English, French, and Arabic. He writes mainly about freedoms, liberties, and minorities' rights in post revolution Tunisia. He currently blogs about films in French and writes metal reviews.