BeekeepingHoney continues to be a popular commodity across the globe, and poor rural farmers throughout Africa are beginning to take up the practice of beekeeping to earn money.

In Kenya, a large portion of those living in poverty reside in rural regions, as large cities such as Nairobi are beginning to prosper. Bees, and the delicious nectar that they produce, are starting to be viewed as a viable business enterprise for farmers living in the Kenyan countryside.

According to CapX, “More than 90 percent of honey in Kenyan supermarkets is imported,” which gives local farmers the opportunity to enter a practically untouched market.

However, the practice of beekeeping in Kenya has typically been popular among the elderly community, who yield small quantities of honey from hives made out of wooden logs.

To combat this trend, CapX reports, “Charities like Christian Aid are working to develop honey hubs in Kenya.” These hubs will provide education, training, modern equipment, storage and industry connections in an effort to promote the business of beekeeping and help prove that bees can end poverty for these farmers.

A similar strategy is taking hold in Tunisia, where the project TuniBee is beginning to empower local beekeepers. Students who attend the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis, the capitol of Tunisia, began the initiative at the suggestion of Noomen Lahimer, their professor of economics and entrepreneurship.

According to BBC, “People who already keep bees to supplement the income they get from their day jobs are selected from deprived areas of the country” to work with TuniBee.

Beekeepers who participate in the program are given extra beehives that are purchased by the sponsors of TuniBee. On top of this, Khaled Bouchoucha, a beehive entrepreneur, and Hidhli Naoufel, a veterinarian, provide high-end beehives and expertise on the handling of bees to the participants.

The greatest upside to the promotion of beekeeping in Africa is the worldwide interest in the delicious golden syrup.

CapX reported, “Honey is a treasured substance among many Muslim communities.” Honey holds special significance in Islam, and countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are willing to spend a lot of money if the honey is of a high quality.

In Tunisia, TuniBee has intrigued large corporations such as Total, Shell and Microsoft, that they hope will eventually act as corporate sponsors. Additionally, TuniBee has already secured one U.S. company that would like to import their honey.

The ever-growing popularity of this up-and-coming industry has led many to believe that bees can help end poverty for rural farmers across Africa.

Liam Travers

Photo: Pixabay

John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. Senate remain embroiled in a billion dollar foreign aid battle that has been raging since 2011.

In 2014, the United States signed a $500 million loan agreement with Tunisia, which would allow the people of Tunisia to access international capital and other financing techniques to assist with their “democratic transition.”

According to the New York Times, the U.S. has extended $700 million in direct aid to Tunisia over the past four years and two rounds of loan guarantees totaling $1 billion since 2012, after designating Tunisia a major non-NATO ally in July 2015. This status brings up the promise of added military cooperation.

Being called “the Arab Spring’s only potential success story” by the Al-Monitor, Tunisia has been a central player in the Obama administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to increase the amount of USAID dollars sent to Tunisia and has been advocating for other programs of economic growth that may reinforce Tunisia’s march to democracy.

“The eyes of the world are on Tunisia, and America wants Tunisia to succeed,” said John Kerry in a news conference in 2015. “Tunisia is where the Arab Spring was born, and it is where it distinctly continues to bloom in ways that are defining possibilities for other countries in that region.”

The Tunisian government has so far been enthusiastic about transitioning to democracy, despite potential threats they may face from “regional rivals” such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia says, “We are very proud of our new constitution, of our shared values of democracy and rights […] we need to think about economic and social aspects, and also about teaching and learning because we are eager to develop our youth and to develop new technologies.”

However, not all members of the U.S. Senate are convinced that Tunisia is stable enough to promote Prime Minister Jomaa’s agenda. Senate members were wary of potential terrorist threats within Tunisia this past summer and blocked significant amounts of foreign assistance to the region that were proposed in a House Bill.

The alternative Senate appropriations bill was $10 million short of the foreign assistance demanded by the State Department. It also did increase military aid, although it cited “the terrorist threat Tunisia faces,” as a primary motivator for sending fewer dollars abroad.

The concerns of the Senate are not unfounded. The deteriorating situation in Syria has had profound effects on Tunisia, both with Syrian refugees pouring into the region and Tunisians themselves becoming involved in the civil war. According to Al-Jazeera, 5,500 Tunisians have joined groups like ISIL, al-Nursa Front and al-Qaeda in the neighboring nations of Syria, Iraq and Libya.

However, USAID has been working with Tunisia to create programs of entrepreneurship and economic opportunities that may halt the flow of young Tunisians toward radical groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Funds like the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund, which allocates investments totaling $20 million into small and medium enterprises in Tunisia, is one attempt to jump-start Tunisia’s private sector despite political turmoil that may hinder it.

“Measurable economic progress can help bolster democratic reforms both in Tunisia and elsewhere in the region,” said Alina Romanowski, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East for USAID. “The Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund will help to address gaps in financing for entrepreneurs and small businesses that overwhelmingly drive Tunisian private sector growth.”

USAID and the budding Tunisian democracy are hoping that these economic reforms can be perfected in Tunisia and then transferred to other nations like Syria. Private sector growth, combined with financial support from the U.S. and USAID, could promote a new era of peace and prosperity for Tunisia while also creating a useful ally for the United States in the Middle East.

John Kerry has called Tunisia “a shining example to those who claim democracy is not possible in this part of the world.”

Emma Betuel

Sources: NY Times, Al-Monitor, USAID
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Education in Tunisia
Since the 1980s, Tunisia has experienced success in increasing its human development index score through investments in education and improving the quality of life. However, there are challenges to providing quality education in Tunisia due to unorthodox practices, such as private tutoring practiced by educators.

Here are five facts about education in Tunisia:

1. Tunisia ranks ninth in the world in private tutoring and 70 percent of students participate in tutoring services. About 54 percent of these students received private tutoring from their own teachers. Many of these private lessons include parts of the curriculum that are only available through payment.

2. In order to combat corruption in the education system, Tunisia has an external integrity analysis of education. This allows the country to take appropriate actions to reduce corruption. Recommendations to Tunisia’s government include implementing a new code of conduct for teachers and reforming the admission process for universities.

3. Tunisia ranks 69th in the world in access to basic knowledge. Basic knowledge includes literacy, primary school enrollment, secondary school enrollment and gender parity in secondary school enrollment.

4. About 82 percent of people over the age of 15 are considered to be literate, which ranks Tunisia 93rd in the world in literacy. In 2008, the World Bank reported that 96.79 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate, which provides a strong foundation of hope for the future of literacy in Tunisia.

5. The mean years of schooling in Tunisia have increased 4.5 years since 1980 and Tunisia remains one of the top countries in Africa for access to information. Around 43.8 percent of the population has access to the Internet, which contributes to a better education for students.

Education in Tunisia is showing remarkable progress in enrollment numbers for higher education and access to primary education. It will remain important in Tunisia to engage students and their parents to ensure educational reform is successful.

Donald Gering

Sources: Open Society Foundation, Social Progress Imperative, Trading Economics, UN, UNDP
Photo: Tunisient Tunisia

World Social Forum
Despite the Bardo Museum attacks in Tunis, Tunisia, the World Social Forum proceeded to convene from March 24 to March 28, 2015. Not only did the forum continue, but also a march was held to demonstrate solidarity for peace in Tunisian society.

Approximately 80,000 people who make some of the world’s top leaders in social justice, economic reform, and poverty eradication came together for the World Social Forum. Some attendees include ActionAid and Oxfam International. They come together to discuss the alternative to capitalism and methods for creating a peaceful, fair, and green society.

WSF was founded in 2001 as the alternative to the World Economic Forum under the belief that another world is possible. The first forum was held in 2002 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This conference primarily focuses on the one percent group that holds most of the global wealth and political power. In preparation for the event, ActionAid declares that “A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account…We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The forum typically convenes in the global south to ensure inclusivity and diverse global leaders. The outcome of the initial global civil society meeting resulted in international attention—positive and negative. WSF has received critical attention primarily because some attendees have strong opinions that have resulted in distracting from the main concerns of the forum. In 2003, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a humbling message that expressed a concern for building relations between governments, businesses, and non-profit non-governmental organizations.

This year’s forum is expected to focus particularly on wealth distribution and poverty. The forum has grown in popularity. Their efforts combined demonstrate a reluctance to remain silent on issues that affect a large portion of the global population. It is unclear what may come out of this gathering, but one must stay attuned to their voices. As a global force that challenges the status quo, their popularity demonstrates a positive global development that says peace and anti-poverty efforts should not be ideas, but rather actions.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: ActionAid, Al Jazeera, Global Policy, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: SCN

The World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a U.S. $300 million program that will focus on increasing efficiency within local governments. The campaign is the first project that will aim to prioritize decentralization within the Tunisian government. It is particularly interested in increasing municipalities’ ability to deliver services to urban populations.

The campaign is called Urban Development and Local Governance Program and will impact all 264 Tunisian municipalities. It will also act as an aid to support the Tunisian government’s own plan to decentralize authority, a plan that took effect this year and will run through 2019. Although the municipalities are not equal in size, historically they have all lacked the power to make decisions. Additionally, they hold weak authority, have almost no connection to the citizens and play a miniscule role in local development.

The program will attempt to reverse these trends. While financial stability and increased authority in decision-making positions are the main points, the program aims to increase community involvement, especially in regard to the youth and women. The program looks to have these groups involved in the decision making process.

As a part of the Arab Spring, Tunisia celebrated independence three years ago. In January of this year, the country drafted and adopted a new version of the constitution. The Tunisian Republic, as it is now called, fares well when compared to other products of the uprising such as the coup in Africa and the war in Syria. But freedom comes at a steep price and the republic is dealing with economic, security and political challenges.

The recent program seems to have come at an ideal time for the Tunisians. Previously, giving aid to the government was described as “a noose,” by one critic. The constitution that was ratified in January faced an incredible amount of setbacks, not the least of which included several assassinations.

In January, the United States State Department announced that Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia was a terrorist group. The State Department alleged that the AST had ties with al-Qaeda. The Tunisian government responded by banning the group, although there were many subsequent clashes. Included in these uprisings was Mohamed Brahmi, a founder of the People’s Movement in Tunisia.

But the World Bank has pledged its faith in Tunisia. In total, 1.2 billion USD will be given to the country in 2014. This number represents quadruple the amount given in the pre-revolution period and double what has been given in the wake of the uprising.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: The World Bank, Wamda, Al Jazeera

The selfie took the world by storm, spreading like a virus across social media platforms. The term often carries a negative connotation in many contexts, reflecting a sense of heightened narcissism brought on by the digital age.

However, even viral trends like the selfie can be turned around and used for productive and positive reasons.

A new selfie phenomenon is catching on in Tunisia for a very unique reason. It involves citizens taking snapshots of themselves with piles of trash in the background with the fitting title, “trash selfie.”

About two months ago, Tunisians began taking the trash selfie and posting it to Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SelfiePoubella (#trashselfie). The photos are aimed at raising awareness of the excessive garbage and pollution currently plaguing the country.

The revolution in Tunisia left much of the country destroyed and many areas have yet to see proper repair and reform. As the political system works to restore order, public services have fallen behind. People are simply throwing their trash on the streets on top of piles that remain untouched.

Many Tunisian neighborhoods are riddled with rubbish, raising several health concerns. Aside from the smell alone, mosquito infestations and unsanitary conditions raise the risk of disease. Pollution-related diseases, such as asthma, are also increasing in the area.

The government has failed to properly respond to the crisis up until now. Tunisians are taking the trash selfie to social media platforms as a way to galvanize government response. As a result, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa is currently working up a plan and intends to increase funding to the most problematic areas.

The waste treatment crisis is not limited to Tunisia alone, however. Trash in public areas has become a facet of life in much of the Middle East and North Africa region as the result of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2010 as a result of Twitter advocacy. The platform was critical to revolutionary communication throughout the conflict, as the entire world tuned in to a live-tweeted revolution. Social websites and mobile devices served as an effective way to voice the concerns of a people and push for political change.

Countries like Tunisia show the true potential of the Internet for uniting people over a cause they believe in. Middle Easterners have taken up a public voice on social platforms for real and necessary reform, and it seems they will continue to use it this way.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Green Prophet, Global Voices Online, PRI
Photo: Global Voices Online

On January 26, 2014, the national assembly of Tunisia passed a new constitution that created a full democracy in the country. The constitution was the first in the Arab world to provide full equality for men and women.

Article 20 guarantees male and female citizens equal rights and equal treatment before the law. Article 45 of the constitution requires the state to protect women against violence and guarantee equal presentation of men and women in elected institutions.

Ms. Lobna Jeribi, a member of the Ettakattol party, described the article as “a revolution in itself. It’s a big, historic step, not only for Tunisian women”.

But has this new constitution truly given women their rights? Will women be seen equal by the law after the passing of this constitution?

In September 2012, Meriem Ben Mohamed was out with her fiancé in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. Two policemen took turns raping her in a police car, while her fiancé was forced by a third policeman to hand over cash money.

On March 31st, the three policemen were convicted in a Tunis courtroom. The two men who raped her were given seven years in prison, while the third policeman was convicted of extortion and was given a two-year sentence.

However, Ben Mohamed’s road to justice was long and full of obstacles. When she first accused the policemen of sexual assault, the Tunisian security services charged her with “public indecency”. After public outcry, the president of Tunisia, Mocef Marzouki, gave her an official apology.

The policemen denied the charges of rape and accused Ben Mohamed of seducing them on that night. During the trial, medical evidence was presented, which demonstrated that Ben Mohamed was sexually active before the policemen raped her.

In Arab countries, sexual activity before marriage is taboo. Instead of focusing the attention upon the perpetrators, much criticism during the trial was launched towards Ben  Mohamed herself, in a standard case of victim blaming.

Ben Mohamed currently lives in France and has described her ordeal in a published book called “Guilty of Being Raped”. When she walked out of the courtroom, Ben Mohamed shouted, “when I demand justice, they insult me”.

In Tunisia, the maximum jail term for rape is 25 years. Because the policemen were only given seven years in prison, Ben Mohamed’s legal team will appeal for a longer sentence.

Ben Mohamed’s case demonstrates the fierce opposition Tunisian women face in day-to-day life. Despite the newly adopted Tunisian constitution that guarantees women protection against violence and equal rights before the law, there is still a long road before women can walk the streets of Tunis, unafraid.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Iol

The Arab Spring brought the air of revolution to Tunisia, and after years of struggling to create a steady and free democracy, the assembly has reached an agreement and approved a new constitution.

Out of the 216 members of the Tunisian assembly, 200 affiliates voted to pass the constitution. Of the remaining 16 members, 12 voted against the constitution and four members abstained from the vote.

Three years ago, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from the highest political office in Tunisia, which marked the beginning of the tumultuous journey towards democratic stability.

Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011, and it was not until about October 2012 that the Islamist party, Ennahda, gained control of Tunisia. It has held power ever since, but agreed to step down from office once the final draft of the constitution was passed in the assembly.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, there came multiple terrorist attacks and two political assassinations of secular leaders. The Islamist party Ennahda denounced the violent acts, but certain radical Islamists are held responsible. Their motive was to maintain Islamic leaders in powerful positions.

The two years it took to draft the new Tunisian constitution stirred tensions between Islamists and Secularists, as the Islamists wanted to invoke Sharia (Islamic) law. The compromise within the constitution seems promising, and the Ennahda has stepped down. An appointed caretaker government will be taking power until elections that will take place later this year. The Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Mehdi Jomaa, is a respected technocrat who will lead the transitional period until the time comes for free elections.

The Assembly Speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was quoted after the vote, saying, “This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus… we had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality.”

From what is known of the new constitution so far, it seems to be the most broadminded within the Middle East/North African region, with the guarantee of gender equality and protection of the environment. There are also laws that keep the state responsible for detecting and confronting corruption.

Power is split between the Prime Minister and the President, with more control in the Prime Minister’s hands and the President’s dominance lying mostly within defense policies and foreign relations.

The Tunisian constitution does not cite Sharia law, but Islam is declared as the country’s religion and the state outlaws attacks on Islam. As religious differences were a major obstacle in drafting this new constitution, this is a remarkable step for the North African country.

“All eyes around the world are fixed upon Tunisia’s democratic experience,” Jaafar stated. His words are appropriate, especially with the most recent turmoil in nearby countries, such as Egypt and Yemen.

Hopefully this milestone in Tunisia will be a model for countries struggling to obtain stability after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. The revolutions were necessary for the inspiration of new democratic ideals, however the loss of control has left many countries vulnerable to terrorist organizations and leaders with ulterior motives. The constitution marks a new era for the Tunis people that will hopefully lead to a thriving economy and strong democracy.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Aljazeera, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Blouin News

At the onset of 2011, discontented Tunisians ejected former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali from his ruling seat, ending his 23 year-long strict one-party rule. The revolution, the first of many throughout North Africa and the Middle East, was sparked by Mohammad Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable vendor who set himself on fire in protest of high unemployment, police corruption and political repression. Nearly three years later, the demands of Tunisian revolutionaries have still not been met. The largest demand of the uprising was jobs, particularly for young graduates.

Tunisian youth unemployment is at 17 percent, but for young adults with a university degrees, it is actually 30 percent. Seeing no response from the government that they had hoped to move to action, some Tunisian youth are demonstrating a disturbing trend of radicalization. Islamist groups recruiting fighters for conflicts in regional areas from Libya to Syria, promise those who join them food and compensation for their services. Growing numbers of young Tunisians are being recruited to Jihad groups.

For now, Jihadi violence in Tunisia is minimal. Two political assassinations and 30 members of the security forces were killed this year. There is however, growing concern that hundreds of young volunteers, possibly even several thousand of them, have been recruited through a widening network of Salafist mosques and then trained to fight in Syria, with the potential to return home to cause more trouble. Since the ousting ofZine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had forcibly secularized the country, fundamentalist Salafi groups have sprouted in almost every town. The Salafist mosques provide open spaces for inquiring youth who are lured by charismatic preachers offering a stirring mix of camaraderie and talk of holy war and self-sacrifice in the name of God. They draw thousands of young men and women to their mosques, where they recruit volunteers for missionary work in Tunisia, but also for jihad.

Recruits, many of whom drop out of high school, are organized by a network of facilitators who supply cash, cars and safe houses. The travel through Libya, where they receive military training, and then make their way to Turkey, the main entry point for rebels entering Syria. Two teenage Tunisian boys who recently tried to join the fighting in Syria were told at the Libyan border to turn around, that “the fight is in Tunisia right now, we want to create an emirate there.” The boys were instructed to blow themselves up among a group of tourists at the tomb of Habib Bourguiba, the Tunisian post-independence leader, in the town of Monastir. One did, the other was caught before he could detonate the bomb attached to his body.

The Tunisian police and military forces are working hard to dismantle the Jihad groups forming inside their borders, but they are failing to address the issue at its roots. Would Tunisian youth be enticed by talk of Islamic Holy War if they were employed, contributing members of their society? With depressingly high unemployment rates and continued political repression many young Tunisians see little hope in their future. The Jihad recruitment is an outlet which provides a means of taking some control of their lives and a sense of purpose, no matter how extreme it may be.

– Paige Veidenheimer

Sources: New York Times
Photo: The Star

On October 11, 2013, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office welcomed the unanimous adoption of a new anti-torture law in Tunisia which will go about creating a new formal advocacy body dedicated to preventing and eliminating torture. The Office hailed the anti-torture initiative as a step forward in Tunisia’s ongoing transition to democracy since the country’s revolution that sparked the Arab Spring in December 2010.

Officially created by the Tunisian government on October 9, the Anti-Torture Initiative, formerly known as the National Body to Prevent Torture, is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesman Rupert Colville. Tunisia has been taking steps to eradicate torture since June 2011, when the North African nation ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

The Body will be independent from the Tunisian government, but it will have broad jurisdiction, which includes the power to visit and hold accountable all sites of detention in the country. Additionally, the largest UN committee, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, will also have permission to visit Tunisian detention sites as well as assist Tunisia’s new initiative in the implementation of such a national body.

The OHCHR bureau in Tunisia, which was established there about two years before the start of the Arab Spring, had an important role to play in the creation of the National Body to Prevent Torture in Tunisia through debates and consultation sessions. This collaboration with the international community also helped to bring together Tunisian governmental officials, such as the Ministry for Human Rights and Transitional Justice, as well as vital non-governmental officials such as national and international NGOs.

The president of Tunisia claims that this all-encompassing approach to the transition to democracy post-Arab Spring is necessary to see the “fruition of Arab revolutions.” In his statement to the General Assembly on September 26, President Marzouki advocated for a more stable Tunisia and other Arab Spring countries, as well as the international community’s support to make the transition, as was done with the creation of the National Body to Prevent Torture.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: UN News Centre: Tunisian law, UN News Centre: General Debae