Tunisia’s attempts to appease the West against the interests of Africa

Africa with the long and painful history of forced colonisation from European powers has left the continent in disarray. Tribes, nations, religious divisions have been implanted by the colonisers in order to rule over the masses through an iron fist for around two centuries. Africa, being the richest continent in terms of minerals and natural resources remain the poorest continent in terms of monetary wealth and living standards. This is directly the cause of a European policy of extraction of resources from the continent to benefit the European home economies forcefully throwing the African continent’s economies under the tracks of the European progress. The European advancement in science, technology and economy over the past couple of centuries was directly a cause of the subjugation of the African continent and colonies it possessed elsewhere (Indian subcontinent, Australasia, North and South America). In the “postcolonial” era the former European powers still have vested interests in the African continent due to the abundance of natural resources.

After the decolonisation of Africa, the former colonial powers have attempted to keep a grip over the political and social institutions in Africa by using various control tactics. They have helped government overthrows in order to install a favourable government which let the European and American companies operate freely in the region. This has been reflected in the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba the first Prime Minister of Congo which was staged by the CIA along with Belgium former coloniser of Congo. Similarly, the overthrow of the first Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah as the CIA aided the military to stage a coup in 1966. Further, in Angola and Chad saw the downfall of the pro-African leaders whom the European and Americans have overthrown in order to install a friendlier government in these countries abundant in the vast amount of natural resources. Also more recently the brutal removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was a hard reflection of the European interests in the region. Gaddafi had a pan-African vision of liberating and turning Africa into a self-sufficient continent divorced from European dictation.

Now Tunisia a relatively small country on the coast of the Mediterranean holds strong connections to their former colonisers France. Often Tunisia has attempted to import modern Western Neoliberal values into the Muslim majority country. A lot of their attempts have given rise to dissent among the conservative and majority of the Tunisian population. This, as a result, caused the rise of terrorism in Tunisia with the unsatisfactory supposedly subordinated position of their country to their former colonisers increased anger among a lot within the country. Tunisia was in the forefront of the “Arab Spring” and their protests which was supported by the Western/European intelligence for “democratisation” of the country has played a domino effect in the Arab world and giving rise to painful circumstances even almost after a decade. Tunisia has often played the role of being the Western agent in the Arab world often promoting pro-Western ideas and policies that allow the encampment of Western powers in the Arab and African regions.

The West often cloaks its intentions with “Freedom”, “Liberty” and “Democracy”. However, as they have professed these and have “helped” certain countries those countries have faltered and turned into failed states which enables the Western businesses to extract their natural resources without any government restrictions and often do as they please and maximise profits. Tunisian policymakers feel that they are surrounded by tough neighbours such as Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Morocco although they don’t border the latter two Tunisia is considered a minor power compared to these North African giants. Hence, the policy makers often opt to pro-Western perhaps as it makes them feel more relevant. In the North African camp, Tunisia is the most “liberal” and “democratic” in the Western scale.

Recently, Tunisia has had disagreements with Algeria over Tunisia’s role in allowing Western military presence in the region and the greater continent. Algeria like former Libyan state under Gaddafi along with Egypt opposes Western dominance in the region, quite understandably. Sub-Saharan African countries are usually exploited by the Western presence and often they suffer from political instability as a consequence. The overthrow of the former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was followed by an important signature with NATO and the new Tunisian government. This suggests Tunisian government under President Zine El Abidine was unlikely to subordinate their national interests to the interests of the Westerners. This may bring some light to why he was ousted from power.

This deal with NATO allows the Western countries to have a military presence in Tunisia under the pretext of fighting terrorism and border security with Libya and Algeria (with whom Tunisia has great security relations) Especially when Algeria stepped up to aid Tunisia after the  2011 overthrow as terrorism was surging in the country. Algeria historically being founded on the principles of anti-colonialism due to its bloody history under French rule, by default opposes Tunisia’s new government’s advances with NATO. Like Tunisia Morocco has increasingly been flirting with NATO and allowing the western military to get a foothold once again in Africa. According to the Tunisian Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi NATO command granted 3m Euros to the Tunisians to establish a joint command centre in the port city of Gabès.

Tunisian economy relies heavily on tourism and foreign investment. A lot of it comes from Europe as many Europeans travel to Tunisia. Hence, Tunisia feels obliged to cloak its society with the Western neoliberal outlook to appease the foreign visitors. This makes Tunisia friendlier in the eyes of the European investors. Tunisia under Zine El Abidine was rather conservative and since his overthrow, the new government has opted to make Tunisia appear more “liberal” in Western standards. Interfaith marriage for women has been legalised (uncommon in Muslim countries). Also, nude beaches are in Tunisia very uncommon in Muslim majority countries show how Tunisia is attempting to become liberal in the eyes of the West. LGBT rights in Tunisia are on the cards as the new President has stated he wants to decriminalise “homosexuality” although all of these issues are a minor concern in the Tunisian discourse, however, to the society seem more Westernised is on the agenda in Tunisia for a while in order to sustain its tourism industry.

During NATO’s operation to kill Gaddafi and dismantle Libya Tunisia offered to help NATO “selectively”. Tunisian airbase in northern port Bizerte was reportedly used by NATO in its bombing campaign in Libya. This information was kept secret until it was leaked; Tunisian authorities were gravely embarrassed as this was immensely unpopular in Tunisia. Consequently, Tunisia allowing US troops to operate in Tunisia to this day was kept away from Tunisia’s neighbours Algeria who later when found out was quite unhappy with the situation. Tunisia and Algeria have an important relation, as Tunisia hosts millions of Algerian tourists annually and Algerian gas is exported to Europe through Tunisia. As Tunisia goes behind Algeria’s back to deal with the West which further compromises interests of the Africans, Algeria and Tunisia are starting to distance from each other on political terms as a result.

Tunisia cosying up to the US is a risk according to many within Tunisian political bodies. Tunisia’s security issues were helped by their neighbour Algeria since 2011. After NATO and Tunisia’s deal the US welcomed by stating “strong signal of our support for Tunisia’s decision to join the world’s democracies”, this further implies the Western agenda of “democratisation” or “liberalisation” of North Africa and expand their values as they did during colonial times. With the pretext of “liberal values” the US and Europe attempts to enter once again into former colonies and extract natural resources as they often have. This cosying up has not been taken lightly by Algeria or by some of the other African counterparts. Therefore, Tunisia must act cautiously while allowing Western military presence in the region. The neighbouring countries have not been welcoming to the prospects of Western-style “liberalisation” as it did in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Western military presence should be looked with scrutiny and in each of the cases the countries intervening to “liberate” its people had alternative agendas to profit their own enterprises and economies.


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