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AfDB and Tunisia: Common Thoughts on how to revive Economic Growth in the Democratic process

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Date: 12/05/2011 16:00
Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Statement by Mr. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, Professor of Economics Statement by Mr. Aloysius Ordu, AfDB Vice-President
Statement by Mr. Abdelaziz Darghouth, President, Centre for Young Entrepreneurs Statement by Mr. Mustapha Kamel Nabli, Governor, Central Bank of Tunisia
Statement by Mr. Mthuli Ncube, AfDB Chief Economist Opening remarks
Discussion with the audience

The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) held discussions in Tunis, on 12 May 2011, on the theme “Post-revolution Tunisia, Economic Challenges and Prospects”. The aim of the event was to initiate high level discussions between Bank experts, key players in Tunisian economy, research scientists, business people, and civil society. Discussions were based on a note issued on 11 April 2011 by the Bank’s Operations Departments in charge of North Africa and Development Research.

The joint paper offers various economic scenarios covering the next two years, with a growth rate ranging from 3,5 per cent to -2,5 per cent. AfDB favored an average 1 per cent growth rate.

Discussions were moderated by the Tunisian journalist Ridha Kefi, and were attended, among others, by:

  • Mr. Mustapha Kamel Nabli, Governor of Tunisia Central Bank;
  • Mr. Aloysius Uche Ordu, AfDB Vice-President for Country and Region Programmes and Policies;
  • Mr. Mthuli Ncube, AfDB Vice-President and Chief Economist;
  • Mr. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, Professor of Economics at the University of Tunisia;
  • Mr. Darghouth Abdelaziz, President of the Center for Young Entrepreneurs, at the Arab Institute of Business Leaders.

All Tunisian participants agreed that the  democratic outlook in the long term holds promises for growth, but that Tunisia is now in the most sensitive stage of transition.

The Governor of the Central Bank noted that this post-revolution era is marked by uncertainties. Therefore, there is a need to "adopt an uncertainty and risk management position". The best approach is "not to commit all available fiscal and budgetary instruments immediately, but to leverage them as and when more urgently needed”, Mr. Nabli emphasized.

Mr. Abdelaziz Darghouth expressed his view that "democratic transition success rests on economic success”. The President of the Center for Young Entrepreneurs said that the future of businesses requires "resuming dialogue between employers and employees, and building trust between these two groups of actors, failing which no wealth can be created".

To this end, there is a need to foster transparency values,  and to firmly include youth and women in the future country’s economy. This economy may opt for an innovative growth pattern.

Professor Ben Romdhane felt that the dual sense of uncertainty and a severely worsened situation is due to the fact that "this revolution is in a phase of destroying the past order. This economic and financial destruction is especially compounded by the regional environment, notably Libya”. For this economist, who is at the same time a long standing democracy activist, "there is no exit from the crisis without responses to youth in the disenfranchised regions”.

Return on investment is subject to "Tunisians being able to hold elections conveying a loud message of openness to the world at large”.

Both of the AfDB Vice-Presidents attending the session reiterated the AfDB’s support for Tunisia in this critical period of its history. For the AfDB, the issue of inclusive growth is a central and should also apply to its commitments, beyond Tunisia, throughout the whole region of North Africa.

The Chief Economist, Mthuli Ncube, considered that support for the  private sector and SMEs is a priority for job creation and the country’s economic recovery. For example, he added that Tunisia has a set of very innovative companies in the field of communication technologies that need to be leveraged.

The whole private sector is currently disrupted,  and that is likely to remain so until the situation is stabilized.  Even thought the economic and political future is uncertain, nonetheless Mr. Ncube added a note of hope: "We must be confident in the countr’s  reconciliation process.

Vice-President Ordu stressed the complex situation throughout North Africa. According to Mr Orudu, stabilization of the situation in Tunisia and the region requires the establishment of strong institutions for civil society and the political and economic establishment. Development financial institutions and donors cannot claim that they have ready-made solutions. Our approach should be more modest and coordinated. "A more equitable growth should be our priority," he concluded.

The whole debate between panelists and the audience revealed how political events have  usefully helped to clarify the economic challenges ahead.

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