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Transitions and Time Lags: Understanding a Dispiriting but Temporary Phenomenon

Antonius Verheijen's picture
Also available in: العربية


Having spent much of my working life working with and in countries in transition, it remains painful to watch the disillusionment that so often strikes people that had the courage to change a bad political situation, but then are forced to live through economic hardship. It is those that chose change that seem always to suffer most. But one source of hope is that, fortunately, this hasn’t stopped people from trying. This was true for Southern Europe in the late 1970s (though I was still in school at the time), Central and East European countries in the 1990s, several African countries in the 2000s and, as history has a knack for repeating itself, Tunisia today. 

Tunisia: Looking ahead or back to the future?

Antonius Verheijen's picture
Also available in: العربية

I had the privilege recently to spend an unscheduled hour of discussion with a group of young Tunisians who were visiting our offices. As often, on these occasions it is hard not to get captured by the energy and impatience of the young people in this region. It gives hope that entrepreneurial spirit is really alive and well in a country where reliable private sector services remain otherwise hard to come by, let alone public ones. If one combines the energy of youth with the message in a recent (equally energetic) speech by the Minister of Development to a large group of investors, one gets a sense that Tunisia is, indeed, looking ahead and not to the past.

Yet, as always, reality is far more complex, and often we are confronted with a much gloomier picture of a country that is perceived as, economically, turning inward. This is the case even more so now, as Tunisia is coming under immense pressure to get its public finances in order. This has generated some decisions that go right against the message of openness and dynamism that one gets when meeting with young Tunisians. It all begs the question, for a newcomer like myself, which of the parallel universes is the real one, and, as in a movie, which one ultimately will prevail.