AfDB President visits Kef in Tunisian interior
African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka left the urban sprawl of the Tunisian capital behind him last Thursday as he drove several hours into the Tunisian interior to visit the region of Kef.
Lying some 125 kilometers west of Tunis and unlike the relatively more prosperous coastal areas of the country like Tunis, Kef is one of the more disadvantaged regions in the interior.
The trip gave the AfDB president the opportunity to listen to and engage first-hand with people of the region. Much of the motivation for the trip lay in the opportunity for the president to engage with people whose lives are not being positively impacted by economic growth—in essence one of the underlying factors at the heart of the revolution in Tunisia this past January. The African Development Bank has increasingly been urging its regional member countries and all development partners to put much more emphasis on inclusive growth or growth that is ultimately beneficial to all.
The AfDB Board recently approved a program of USD 500 million in fast-disbursing budget support to Tunisia. This new support is part of an overall USD1.4 billion of assistance to the country along with co-partners, the World Bank, the European Union and the French Development Agency.
Visiting a farm in Kef, where officials spoke about the agricultural potential of the region, Mr. Kaberuka planted a symbolic tree of hope "for the economic and social renewal" of the region.
The regional governor, Mr. Nejib Thlijene thanked the African Development Bank for its work in solidarity with Tunisia. He said to Mr. Kaberuka: "You are our primary partner, and you have shown it since the 14 January revolution in our country. We rely on your institution to help us fight the battle against poverty and unemployment among our young people, and for your continued strong support for this country.”
Mr. Kaberuka praised the relations between Tunisia and the AfDB. He also commended Kef for its resilience in the face of adversity. . "This is the right time for us to come here," said the AfDB president, alluding to the revolution of 14 January 14, 2011. He added: "Our cooperation with Tunisia is excellent and we look forward to working with in partnership with civil society and other groups to identify priority areas for our activities. We want to focus on creating jobs. We came here to learn about the social situation in Kef, and about its economic potential. We want to get involved practically in the process of reducing poverty in the region.''
To the people of Kef, the visit was historic in that it was the first time that a top-level official of the African Development Bank had come to engage in dialogue with them in person. Mr. Kaberuka held discussions with regional officials, the local private sector, civil society, including women’s’ groups and the Association of Unemployed Graduates of Kef.
Discussions covered major sectors of the regional economy including challenges related to access to water, energy and sanitation, the inadequate training in higher educational establishments and the acutely pressing issue of youth unemployment.
Mr. Kaberuka reaffirmed the AfDB’s commitment to greater Tunisia and to the fight against unemployment. He cautioned, however, that there was no “magic wand” to solve the employment issue and that resolving it would take time.
Jacob Kolster, AfDB’s Regional Director for North Africa, responsible for Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, who accompanied the president, said: "The AfDB has complete confidence in the ability of the people of Kef to turn the region’s fortunes around and we know that with our support, they will overcome the current challenges." Also on the visit was the AfDB’s Executive Director for Tunisia, Mr. Mohamed Mahroug, as well as the Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Social Protection division manager, Ginette Nzau-Muteta.
In addition to its current commitments, the AfDB is currently working on the provision of a line of credit for small and medium enterprises, focusing on under-served regions. It also plans to provide technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of banks and the SME sector.
“I shall be returning to Kef. Meanwhile, I wish you courage and hope for the future,” Mr. Kaberuka said to the youth of the region and to local authorities as he took leave of his hosts.