Helsinki, 12 January 2023
Democratic development is one of the key factors determining Tunisia’s future. Young people must be able to believe they have opportunities in their own country, says Teemu Sepponen Finland’s Ambassador to Tunisia.
How would you describe the current situation and the biggest challenges in Tunisia?
Tunisia’s population is young and relatively well educated, and there is an interest in using new technologies to support development. Tunisia is ahead of other Arab countries in the journey to gender equality. It has a stabilising effect in Africa and the Middle East, and it condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Tunisia is master of its own development, it still needs the help of the international community to achieve its targets. The country is facing obstacles in achieving democracy and the rule of law, in realising human rights, in modernising its economy and in reducing corruption. Tunisia is both a transit country and a country of origin for migration flows. Climate change is manifested as severe heat and drought.
How is Finland supporting Tunisia?
Finland has a long history of supporting Tunisia. Tunisia was the site of Finland’s first proper development cooperation project. This project that lasted from 1965 to 1973 was a forest project, and Finland was one of the founders of the still-existing Remel forestry school near Bizerte. This cooperation has given Tunisia many forestry professionals.
The world, Tunisia and Finland’s international cooperation have changed a great deal from those times. Finland continues its support to Tunisia – and to Tunisians – through new forms of cooperation. Nowadays there is a strong emphasis on working together with the European Union and the international community.
Democratic development has been a major theme in Tunisia especially since the Arab Spring. Demo Finland, a cooperative organisation of all Finnish parliamentary parties, has been promoting Tunisia’s democratic development by organising training for young politicians and civil society activists. This cooperation has long-term objectives and it will continue even if the Tunisian political development took a step or two backwards. In addition, Finland is supporting the participation of women and young people in society and the economy through local civil society organisations.
Finland has a regional cooperation programme for countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East, Tunisia included.
The programme aims to alleviate the problems created by climate change and environmental degradation and strengthen the role of women in decision-making, peace processes and the labour market. The support for Tunisia is mainly channelled through UN Women, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The regional cooperation programme will amount to EUR 14 million between 2021 and 2024.
In addition, Finland is financing regional work against climate change in Tunisia through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
How do you see the future of Tunisia?
It is important to ensure that Tunisia does not drift towards the countries where the space for democracy is shrinking and multiparty democracy is not working. Tunisians should be able to modernise their economy and create a system that is based on transparency and competitiveness instead of protectionism. Tunisia’s brain drain of young, educated workers should be plugged using positive means and by giving the young hope for a better future in Tunisia.
Strong partners, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU and its Member States, are offering Tunisia their help through cooperation. Powerful trade and investment flows from EU Member States are a particularly important factor in boosting Tunisians’ hopes for a better future. The EU’s key values, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, are always on the cooperation agenda. Tunisians’ own solutions are crucial for the continuation and success of the cooperation.
What has uplifted you personally in Tunisia and what can we learn from the locals?
I am often uplifted by the friendliness, generosity and interest many Tunisians show towards foreigners. People are prepared to share even when they have little themselves. Once on a taxi ride, I was just chatting with the driver when he suddenly gave me a Tabouna bread.
History and the beauty of nature are ever-present in Tunisia. Despite poverty, Tunisia is filled with picture-perfect Mediterranean scenes and architectural treasures. Those who are interested in languages, cultures and religions will find in Tunisia a vantage point for the Islamic world, the Arab culture, the African continent and the French-speaking world.
In this series of articles, Finland’s ambassadors tell news from countries that are key partners of Finland’s development cooperation.