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Mining Industry of Tunisia: Economic Significance, Cultural Impact, People's Experiences

posted on: Sep 14, 2021

By Ruqyah Sweidan, Arab America Contributing Writer

Historical Mining Camp, Tunisia Wiki

History of Mining

A country’s resources are key to its global significance. The culture, economy, and general livelihood are few of the many aspects defined by what exists on a land to start with. The Arab world has long been the source of vast natural resources. Over time, changing demographics and politics have shaped the distribution of the wealth. This article will be examining the ample mining industry of Tunisia.

Mining has been practiced in Tunisia since the times of the Berber and Romans between 6000 and 2000 BC through the Arab and French empires. During the late 1800’s, more areas were re-discovered for mining extractions. During Frances colonization of Tunisia, mining supported the country’s economy. Because this added to the volume of natural resources that were stolen from the native people, Tunisians often protested. Although they were quelled by colonial police. However, sudden unemployment followed with the Great Depression of the 1930’s. But with time, mining labor unions eventually formed in the second half of the twentieth century. They, along with the new independent government, were the earliest example of organized labor in the modern history of the country.

State of the Mining Business Today

Tunisian Energy Advancement. Source EcoMena.

Soon, the industry was re-vitalized and metals such as zinc, iron ore and phosphate were exported around the world. However, it is largely unknown by people. In 2010, Tunisia was among the top five countries in the world in the mining industry, especially in phosphate production. Unfortunately, the Tunisian industry has not kept up with competition from Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. This has been the case since the Arab Spring, in which president Ben Ali was deposed. Labor disputes and strikes soon took place for nearly three years. The revolution also outlined criticism to how these natural resources were being exploited. Thus, the people continue to advocate for the respect of these riches and are working toward enhancing control and accountability in mining.

Mining Inspired Activism

Tunisian Activism. Middle East Institute.

Today, there is increase activism of young people in post-revolution Tunisia who want to instill faith in collective action and civic engagement. Most of them ask for more transparency in the energy sector. They have begun helping to pave the way for a more participative government. The goal is to improve knowledge and promote openness. At the same time, civil society organizations, trade unions, and political parties are aiming to increase their presence in different regions to engage the youth in community and politics.

Activists believe that economy, trust and politics are the interdependent components of democracy. Politicians have also started to encourage their people to become more active. The people are therefore collectively working to continue the legacy of the economic prosperity of natural resources from centuries ago. This is also one of the most pro-active ways to prevent the radicalization of youth. Violent avenues are usually the consequence of lack of work or education. Thus, activists stress that it is crucial for the youth to feel included in democracy.

The Future of Tunisia’s Land Resources

Post-Revolution Tunisia. TheDailyStar.

Currently, the government continues to work on attracting international investment in the energy and manufacturing sectors. The venture has so far been proven promising thanks to Tunisia’s proximity to European markets and the internal public sector reforms. Phosphate, for example, accounts for two percent of Tunisia’s GDP and employs twenty-seven thousand people. Hence, various steps have been taken for preservation. For example, people are allowed to examine areas for minerals. While drilling and mining are not allowed, geological studies can be performed for scientific and environmental purposes.

All in all, Tunisia’s mines are an expansive treasure for a geographically small country. Since the Arab Spring, Tunisia has had one of the best developed post-revolution plans. Increased education and awareness have helped the people to better secure their resources. While mining has decreased in Tunisia, the dialogue about energy consumption and economic opportunity has become more open. Thus, the Tunisian people have increased agency in deciding the best fate for their land’s resources.