Open letter to President Kais Saied: In the name of Hannon

Mr President of the Republic,

I am writing to you today as a Tunisian and African academic, concerned about the recent situation in our country. Since the publication of the communiqué regarding the situation of immigrants in Tunisia, the whole world has turned on us.

They regard us, wrongly, as a racist country, which has resulted in a spectacular departure of immigrants and Sub-Saharan African students. Tunisian universities are substantially affected, and the students are still afraid. Education professionals are cancelling their plans for academic promotion and academic cooperation on the continent. It is a detrimental situation which must be strongly opposed.

Several initiatives have been undertaken by the government to calm the impassioned exchanges. I welcome all the announcements aimed at reassurance, and the introduction of measures to make the lives of international students and immigrants in Tunisia easier. Some believe it is belated, but I believe it is better late than never. Today, measures must be put in place to restore the image of Tunisia in Africa. It concerns the credibility of our nation and what it has built up over the centuries.

The whole world must know the truth about us. Since the fifth century BC, we have been open to Africa and to foreigners, and nobody can, and they cannot, take that away from us.

Unfortunately, human memory is short, and that is why we have the duty to remind our children and the world who we truly are. Indeed, our great forefather Hannon, appointed and funded by the taxpayer and blessed by the People’s Assembly – 2,500 years ago – was the first to take an interest in the African peoples.

Since his missions, we were the first to trade with them as equals. Hannon, through his work, was the first to reveal the African peoples to the entire world, the fauna and flora of the region, and to hand down to humanity detailed descriptions of this heritage. It is thanks to this immense and unique legacy that we are naturally open to the world, and that, today, thousands of Tunisians have become world citizens.

Restore public opinion

Mr President, I propose that the government restore African and international public opinion. It is sufficient to be sincere, transparent and informative to explain our situation and our official position.

First, you, or the head of the government, must carry out an African tour. You must visit the countries of Africa and meet African leaders to discuss the current migratory situation in Tunisia and the ways to collaborate to find common agreement for a solution to preserve the human dignity of our fellow continentals.

You could also organise cultural events, or a great international summit with heads of state to discuss together the issues of migration in this century. The subject must be taken seriously, with solid commitments at the highest state level. It concerns the future of humanity as much as the environment, health or world security.

Second, you could create a ministry for Africa to carry out concrete actions. Far from the current model of a state secretariat, which plays only a minimal diplomatic role, this new ministry should have real influence with cross-disciplinary, joint missions with the ministries of development, higher education, interior, agriculture, culture, health, transport and defence. This ministry for Africa would play a crucial role in the promotion of diplomatic, cultural, security, academic and economic relations with the other African countries.

By strengthening cultural and historical links between Tunisia and other African countries, the ministry could help to create a sense of mutual confidence and respect between the different African cultures.

In addition, by coordinating the initiatives of regional economic development with neighbouring countries, the ministry for Africa could help to strengthen the Tunisian economy and stimulate greater economic growth in the region. Making Tunisian participation in African organisations such as the African Union, CAMES (Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Supérieur or African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education) and the CEDEAO (Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest; in English, ECOWAS – the Economic Community of West African States), the ministry for Africa could give Tunisia a stronger voice in regional and continental affairs.

The ministry could also supervise humanitarian aid and development programmes aimed at African countries in difficulty. By encouraging educational and university exchanges, the ministry for Africa could promote intercultural understanding and cooperation.

The ministry could also promote human rights, democracy and good governance in Africa, and facilitate the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime. By encouraging Tunisian investments in Africa and strengthening the position of Tunisia in trade negotiations and free-trade agreements, the ministry for Africa could help to stimulate economic growth and strengthen the position of Tunisia in the region and on the continent.

Finally, we must take concrete measures to make the lives of immigrants, in regular or irregular situations, easier. We must improve access to health and education services, make it easier to obtain work permits, and offer professional training opportunities to immigrants. By taking these measures, we will show to the world that we are a country that respects human beings, appreciates diversity and guarantees decent conditions to immigrants in our country.

To conclude, Mr President, we encourage you to establish this strategy to restore African and international public opinion. We must show to the world that Tunisia is a great country that is open, welcoming and respectful of cultural diversity. I hope that you will take these proposals into consideration, and that you will take measures worthy of a great country such as ours.

Kaïs Mabrouk, managing director of EIGHT University, the International School of Hotel Management of Tunis, is also a member of RAMSESS, or the Network for the Scientific Mobility of South-South Students.

The letter, first published by La Presse.tn in Tunisia, was translated by Jane Marshall.