Tunisia's African Dimension: Tunisia Has Been Intimately Involved in the Affairs of the Rest of the Continent from the Era of the Fight for Independence to the Current Thrust for Economic Development. (Tunisia: Africa's Bridge to the World)

By Versi, Anver | The Middle East, July 2003 | Go to article overview
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Tunisia's African Dimension: Tunisia Has Been Intimately Involved in the Affairs of the Rest of the Continent from the Era of the Fight for Independence to the Current Thrust for Economic Development. (Tunisia: Africa's Bridge to the World)


Versi, Anver, The Middle East


Tunisia's relationship with the rest of Africa is deeper and more intimate than is generally known. Study the history of African liberation movements during the dramatic decades between 1950 and 1970 and the name of Tunisia crops up in practically every instance. Perhaps the best known example is that of Nelson Mandela who was provided with a Tunisian passport by Habib Bourguiba to enable him to keep one step ahead of Apartheid South Africa's hunting packs. During the wilderness years, the ANC always found a ready welcome, finances, training and moral support in Tunisia.

The same went for a host of other liberation movements and leaders in exile. During its war of independence, Algeria's FLN fighters were encamped in Tunisia for years and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation found a home in Tunis after being driven out of Beirut. Angola's Roberto Holden, Mozambique's Samora Machel and dozens of other African freedom fighters counted on Tunisia for travel documents, safe havens, money and political and organisational training.

African organisations such as the African Union (AU, formerly the OAU) and international ones such as the United Nations have taken full advantage of the diplomatic and negotiating skills found in Tunisia for conflict resolution and peacekeeping activities. Tunisian Blue Helmets under the UN flag have been part of peacekeeping forces in several African conflict zones: Western Sahara, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, South Africa, the Comoros, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic, of The Congo.

Birth of African Renaissance

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the greatest gathering of African Heads of State, a total of 43, occurred during the OAU Summit held in Tunis in 1994. The most illustrious star of the event was Nelson Mandela, attending his first OAU Summit as President of the new South Africa.

In a speech that has set the benchmark for subsequent declarations by African leaders, Mandela said: "In the distant days of antiquity, a Roman sentenced this African city (Tunis) to death. Carthago delenda est! (Carthage must be destroyed).

"In the end, Carthage was destroyed. During the long interregnum, the children of Africa were carted away as slaves. Our lands became the property of other nations, our resources a source of enrichment for other peoples and our kings and queens mere servants of foreign powers."

Mandela then listed the achievements of African and diaspora heroes. "By their deeds, by the struggles they led, these and many other patriots said to us that neither Carthage nor Africa had been destroyed.

"Africa cries out for a new birth. Carthage awaits the restoration of its glory," he concluded to a thunderous, standing ovation.

This has proved to be a profound watershed speech. Mandela invoked the glory of Carthage, the apocalyptic interregnum and the reawakening of Africa simultaneously with the restoration of the spirit of Carthage in Tunisia. The destinies of Tunisia and the rest of Africa, he implied, were as one. From this summit came the African Renaissance Movement which has now transmuted into Nepad. An African Conflict Resolution system, in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan nightmare, also took shape at this gathering.

It is fitting that it was a Tunisian, Mohamed Bouaouaja, the former chairman of Tunisia's largest financial institution, STB and a director of the Central Bank of Tunisia (CBT) who was appointed by the World Bank to reorganise the National Bank of Rwanda (NBA) after the 1994 civil war. The governor of NBA, Francois Kanimba was quoted as saying that Bouaouaja's contribution had been "extraordinary and of vital importance to Rwanda". Since then there has been a steady flow of experts from CBT to Rwanda as this central African country strives to rebuild after its disastrous civil war.

This is just one example of Tunisia's increasing contribution to development efforts in the rest of Africa.

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Tunisia's African Dimension: Tunisia Has Been Intimately Involved in the Affairs of the Rest of the Continent from the Era of the Fight for Independence to the Current Thrust for Economic Development. (Tunisia: Africa's Bridge to the World)
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