The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Tunisia: Shaped by rich Arab,
African, Berber influences
The Tunisian Republic is a predominately Arab nation situated on the North African Mediterranean Sea coast. It is the easternmost and smallest of the nations located along the Atlas Mountains, bordering Algeria to the west, and Libya to the south and east.
Forty per cent of the country is arid desert, with the balance reasonably fertile. Tunisia played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, and later, as the Africa Province, a part of the Roman Empire. Tunisia was known as the bread basket of the Roman Empire.
Tunisia is situated on the Mediterranean coast of Africa, midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Valley. It is bordered by Algeria in the west and Libya in the southeast. An abrupt southern turn of its shoreline gives Tunisia two faces on the Mediterranean and marks the division between the eastern and western sections of the sea. Tunisia's coastline is 713.3 miles long. The country claims a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles, and territorial waters extending 12 nautical miles.
Despite its relatively small size, Tunisia has a variation of geography. It is more mountainous in the north, where the Dorsal, an extension of the Atlas Mountains, traverses Tunisia in a northeasterly direction from the Algerian border in the west to the Cape Bon peninsula. North of the Dorsal is the Tell region characterized by low, rolling hills, and plains. The northwestern corner of Tunisia, averages 3.000 foot elevation.
The Sahil is a plain along Tunisia's eastern Mediterranean coast famous for its olive monoculture. Inland from the Sahil, between the Dorsal and a range of hills south of Gafsa, are the Steppes. Much of the southern region is semi-arid. The Sahara lies in the southernmost portion of the country.
Tunisia’s climate is temperate in the north exhibiting mild rainy winters and hot, dry summers. A succession of salt lakes, known as chotts or shatts, extend east-west at the northern edge of the Sahara from the Gulf of Gabes. The lowest point is Chott el Gharsa, at 55 feet below sea level, and the highest elevation is Mt. Jabal ash Shalabi, at 5,000 feet.
Tunisia is home to dozens of different species of mammals, including antelopes, bats, rodents, foxes, wild cats, hyenas, snakes and reptiles. Tunisia has 84 species of mammals and 375 spe- cies of birds. Tunisia's tranquil base includes grazing gazelles, camels, donkeys, and horses and . The country is particularly rich in birds, including waterfowl, larks, warblers, and numerous others. On the more dangerous side, hyenas and jackals roam the countryside, while birds of prey — eagles, hawks, and falcons circle the skies in search of prey, and poisonous snakes, including the horned viper and cobra, present major threats.
The dromedary is the national animal of Tunisia. Also known as Arabian camel, the dromedary is large even-toed ungulate of the genus Camelus, with one hump on its back. It is the tallest of the three species of camel; adult males mature to a height 6'5" at the shoulder, while females average 5' 6" to 6'2". The animals are herbivores, weighing 880-1,300 pounds for males; 660-1,200 pounds for females, and the average life span is 40-50 years.
Dromedaries, like all camels can survive up to 15 days without water because they store fat in their humps (not water) and use this to survive long periods without water.
Tunis is the capital of Tunisia along Lake Tunis, just inland from the Medi- terranean Sea and the Gulf of Tunis. It is home
to a centuries-old medina and the Bardo, an archae- ology museum where Roman mosaics are dis- played in a 15th-century palace complex.
Tunisia's market-oriented economy has been cited as a success in Africa and the Arab world. However, it has faced an array of challenges since the 2011 Arab Spring Revolution including high rates of unemployment and slow economic growth. After the failed socialist economic policies of the 1960s, Tunisia embarked on a strategy to bolster exports, tourism and foreign investment all of which are now the nation’s economic pillars. Primary exports are petroleum, food products, fertilizers, and chemicals.
A broad range of wildlife contribute to the vitality of Tunisia. Dozens of different species of mammals, including antelopes, bats, rodents, foxes, wild cats, and hyenas, wild dogs ostriches, as well as snakes and reptiles. But the country is particularly rich in a diversity of birds, including waterfowl, larks, warblers, and birds of prey.
The Tunisian Armed Forces is comprised of the Tunisian Army, Air Force and Navy. As of 2019, Tunisia's armed
forces numbered 150,000 active-duty personnel, of which 80,000 were conscripts. Paramilitary forces consisted of a 12,000-member national guard. Tunisia participates in UN peacekeeping missions. Deployments for the Tunisian armed forces have included Côte d'Ivoire, Namibia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Republic of Congo, and Cambodia.
President Bourguiba was overthrown and replaced by Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Nov. 7, 1987. President Ben Ali changed little in the Bourguibist system except to rename the party the Democratic Constitu- tional Rally (RCD by its French acronym).
In 1988, Ben Ali tried a new tack with reference to the government and Islam, by attempting to reaffirm the nation's Islamic identity by releasing several Islamists activists from prison. He also forged a national pact with the Tunisian party Harakat al-Ittijah al-Islami (Islamic Tendency Movement, founded in 1981), which changed its name to an-Nahda (the Renaissance Party). An-Nahda ran strongly in the 1989 elections, causing Ben Ali to quickly ban Islamist political parties and jail as many as 8,000 activists. To the present, the government continues its refusal to recognize Muslim opposition parties, and governs the country by military and police repression.
The Tunisian revolution of 2011, a series of mass demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country, led President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on Jan. 14, 2011, after 23 years in power. The protests inspired similar actions throughout the Arab world: The Egyptian revolution began after the events in Tunisia and also led to the ousting of Egypt's longtime president Hosni Mubarak; furthermore, protests have also taken place in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan and also Libya --- where a full-scale rebellion ended Moammar Gaddafi's reign of over 40 years.
Tunisia is a constitutional republic, with a president serving as head of state, prime minister as head of govern- ment, a unicameral parliament and a civil law court system. Until the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia had a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party. Ben Ali took office in 1987 when he deposed Habib Bourguiba, who had been president since Tunisia's independence from France in 1956. The ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), was the sole legal party for 25 years—when it was known as the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD).
The president was elected to 5-year terms—with virtually no opposition—and appointed a Prime Minister and cabinet, who played a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also were appointed by the central government; largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected. There was a unicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which had 182 seats, 20 percent of which were reserved for the opposition. It played a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy but never originated legislation and virtually always passed bills presented by the executive with only minor changes.
Ben Ali was consistently re-elected with enormous majorities every election, the last being Oct. 25, 2009. He and his family subsequently were accused of corruption and plundering the country's money and fled into exile amid popular unrest in January 2011. The transitional government dissolved the RCD, and elections for a Constituent Assembly of 217 members were held in October 2011.
The Constitution of Tunisia, adopted on Jan. 26, 2014, guarantees rights for women and states that the president's religion "shall be Islam." In October 2014 Tunisia held its first elections under the new constitution following the Arab Spring.
Modern Tunisians are the descendants of indigenous Berbers and of people from numerous civilizations that have invaded, migrated to, and been assimilated into the population over the millennia. The Muslim conquest in the seventh century transformed Tunisia and the make-up of its population, with subsequent waves of migration from around the Arab and Ottoman world, including significant numbers of Spanish Moors and Jews at the end of the 15th century. Tunisia became a center of Arab culture and learning and was assimilated into the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It was a French protectorate from 1881 until independence in 1956, and retains close political, eco- nomic, and cultural ties with France.
Nearly all Tunisians (98 percent of the population) are Muslim while the remaining 2 percent follow Christianity and Judaism or other religions. Berber Christians continued to live in Tunisia up until the early f15th century. Today Tunisia has a sizable Christian community of around over 25,000 adherents, mainly Catholics and to a lesser degree Protestants. There has been a Jewish population on the southern island of Djerba for 2000 years, and there remains a small Jewish population in Tunis which is descended from those who fled Spain in the late 15th century. Small nomadic indigenous minorities have been mostly assimilated into the larger population.
Tunisia’s natural resources include petroleum, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, and salt. The nation has a diverse economy, with important agricultural, mining, energy, tourism, and manufacturing sectors. The nation’s major environmental challenges include poor waste disposal, water pollution from raw sewage, limited natural freshwater sources, deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification.
Tunisia announced a 2022 budget of 57.2 billion dinars (US$20 billion), 2.3 percent bigger than the 2021 budget, with an anticipated deficit of 9.3 billion dinars (US$3.2 billion) or 6.7 percent of gross domestic product. The budget
anticipates a total borrowing requirement of 18.7 billion dinars next year, bringing the public debt to 82.6 percent of GDP. Tunisia's economy has been hit hard by the pandemic after years of stagnation and the government expects it to grow by 2.6 percent next year.
Tunisia has opened talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, but any help would likely require the government to agree to significant and unpopular reforms including cuts to subsidies and the public sector wage bill and changes to loss-making state-owned companies. Tunisia's association agreement with the European Union (EU) entered into force on March 1, 1998, the first such accord between the EU and Mediter- ranean countries to be activated. Under the agreement Tunisia will gradually remove barriers to trade with the EU over the next decade along with nine other Mediterranean countries.
Broader privatization, further liberalization of the investment code to increase foreign investment, and improve- ments in government efficiency are among the challenges for the future. In 2008, Tunisia will be a completely associated member of the EU (comparable to the status of Norway or Iceland). About 12 percent of the country's GDP comes from agriculture—mostly olive oil and cereals, and 20 percent from textile manufacturing.
Tunisia is one of the world’s largest producers of phosphates, and country relies heavily on tourism, hosting five million tourists annually. Machinery, hydrocarbons, capital goods, and cotton are its main imports. Tunisia is the 87 most competitive nation in the world out of 140 countries ranked in the 2019 edition of the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum.
Education is a high priority in Tunisia as it has been for many years since independence. The academic year runs from October through to June, and the medium of education is Arabic. Students are tested at the end of each tri-mester, through oral and written tests, and practical examinations.
Middle Education: The final three years of preparatory education occurs at middle school. Here a score exceeding 50 percent is required to pass the examination to earn the Diplôme de Fin d’Études de l’Enseignement, that opens the door for admission to secondary school.
Secondary Education: At secondary school, students pursuing four years of study have a choice between following an academic or a technical track. For the first two years they maintain a common academic curriculum. After that, academic students may follow one of five specializations, while others complete their final two years in a more vocational environment.
Vocational Education: The ministry of employment administers an ongoing vocational program by setting stan- dards, licensing training providers and maintaining quality control.
Tertiary Education: Tertiary education opportunities in Tunisia have expanded rapidly during the past decade and total student numbers now approach 350,000. In total, there are 13 universities, 24 institutes of technological studies, and six higher institutes of teacher training.
Tunisian culture is a synthesis of various civilizations, heavily influenced in ancient times by Carthage and Rome. The nation is rich in cultural activity and his home to prestigious museums and cultural institutions. Sustained efforts have been deployed to promote the country's cultural sector. Tunisia annually attracts millions of tourists. An important site for visitors, near the capital of Tunis, are the ruins of Carthage, once the center of the ancient Carth- aginian empire which was defeated by the Roman Empire in three Punic wars.
Berber, Arab, African and European influences have shaped the Tunisian cultural identity. Over the centuries many peoples, including Romans, Vandals, and Arabs have occupied Tunisia, though the predominant lineage prevailing is Berber. Tunisians regard themselves as Arabs. The people of this nation have a reputation for being warm and hospitable. Although Islam is the prevalent religion, Jewish and Christian communities are free to practice and contribute to enriching the diversity of the Tunisian culture.
Unique styles of architecture are found throughout Tunisia. Tunis has long been famous for its beautiful gates and windows, which apart from being utilitarian, are a work of art. The housing styles themselves tend to be minimal- istic, while the entry-ways, often in striking blue, are a symbol of wealth and refinement.
Women’s clothing are varied throughout the country, but tend to be highly refined. Weaving and embroidery vary from one region to another. Fabrics are adapted to needs and circumstances, and are usually brocade, and silk. Tunisian handicrafts are comprised of copper, wool, ceramics, jewelry, and leather. Chrome-plated copper and bronze are used in various wares including pestles, candelabras and saber’s handles. Tunisian carpets are known to be of high quality craftsmanship. Various types of high pile carpets are produced, including the Berber gatifa carpet, the mergoum, which is widely used in central and southern Tunisia; and the alloucha carpet traditionally manufactured in Kairouan.
Arabic is Tunisia's main language, but French is used predominantly in the media, commercial sector, and govern- ment. Berber-speaking people form less than one percent of the population. In the tourist resorts shop keepers and hotel staff usually speak three or four European languages.
There are three French daily newspapers, Le Temps, La Presse, and L'Action. Other international newspapers can be found in the main cities. Government-run radio and television transmit programs mostly in Arabic, except for one station in French. There are no English programs, but the BBC World Service can be easily picked up.
Tunisian cuisine consists of the cooking traditions, ingredients, recipes and techniques that have existed in Tunisia since antiquity. It is mainly a blend of Mediterranean and native Punics-Berber cuisine. Historically, Tunisian cuisine has been inflenced by many cultures like Italian, Andalusian, French and Arab. Like many countries in the Mediter- ranean basin, Tunisian cuisine is heavily based on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood, and meat. Yet, it has a dis- tinctive spiciness that distinguishes it from the cuisines of neighboring nations.
Tunisian cuisine developed from Berbers, ancient Carthage, Rome, and the Ottoman Empire. The cuisine has been strongly influenced by French, and Sicilian/Italian cooking. A popular condiment and ingredient used extensively in Tunisian cooking is harissa, a mix of ground chili peppers, garlic, and spices commonly sold as a paste. Other spi- ces include cumin, garlic, caraway, coriander, and paprika. A recipe for the sauce includes olive oil, red chili pep- pers, garlic, coriander, cumin, and tomatoes. Tomato paste is an ingredient integral to Tunisian cuisine as well. Tuna, eggs, olives, pasta, cereals, and potatoes are common Tunisian foods.
While Tunisia has a reputation for beautiful beaches and sparkling seas with the mild year-round climate, water sports enjoyed during the summer can be practiced for most of the year in southern resort areas. Sports such as golf, tennis, diving, hunting, surfing, sailing, hiking, and exploring the numerous sites, cities and museums are year-round recreations.
Tunisia hosted the African Nations Cup in 1964, 1994, and 2004, and was African Nations Champion in 2004.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License