Over the past decade, numerous international organisations and institutions regularly exhorted developing countries to follow Tunisia as a model of economic success and stability. Ludovic Lamant asks how could they have got it so wrong?
The Tunisian revolution has ridiculed the expert studies and reports that regularly lauded the good governance and economic performance of this North African country ruled for 23 years by former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. For after a month of widespread protest that began in mid-December, Ben Ali was toppled on 14 January by popular exasperation at dire living conditions and human rights abuse, and notably over the spiraling price of basic foodstuffs.
"There is a total discrepancy between the portrait presented by international institutions and the marked trends of the Tunisian economy," commented Karim Bitar, associate researcher with the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations, IRIS.
The revolt in Tunisia is rooted in a long-simmering movement, and notably in the southern mining region of Gafsa, where more than half of the active population, Good economic management and social policies continue to bear fruit, as evidenced by accelerated growth and improved social indicators."
Reporting on Tunisia in 2010, the IMF warned of short-term dangers of the economic crisis, and that "boosting employment" was a key medium-term challenge" but reassuringly noted: "Over the past two decades, the North African nation has undertaken wide-ranging structural reforms aimed at enhancing its business environment and improving the competitiveness of its economy. These reforms, accompanied by prudent macroeconomic management, have reduced the Tunisian economy's vulnerability to shocks-including the global financial crisis-and provided more options for the authorities to respond to them."
Meanwhile, the United Nations, in the 2010 edition of its Human Development Report which it describes as a "composite national measure of health, education and income for 169 countries", found that "in terms of the improvement in its human development index" Tunisia was "a success". The preamble to the 2010 report noted that "for the first time" the study "looks back rigorously at the past several decades and identifies often surprising trends and patterns with important lessons for the future."