Regional Review: Tunisian Politics Still Churning; ‘Africities’ Explores Need to Manage Growth; and the World Bank Publishes its First Human Capital Index – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
December 4, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Well, governing Tunisia was never going to be a smooth road, and the latest cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has implications for what lies ahead for the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019. The PM said that the changes were necessary to quickly implement lagging economic and political reforms to help quell mounting popular unrest. But political opponents tied to President Beji Caid Essebsi and his son Hafez, the leader of the Nida’ Tounes party, saw another conspiracy  to challenge their political leadership.

For months now, the president and his son have repeatedly called for Chahed to step down. More recently, Chaded’s membership in Nida’ Tounes was suspended, which resulted in a split in the party, leaving it in third place in seats in parliament. This split, coupled the president’s announcement ending the five-year agreement between Nida’ Tounes and Ennahda, the moderate Islamic opposition, in the face of Ennahda’s refusal to go along with unseating Chahed, has greatly weakened Nida’ Tounes and the Essebsis. The party now has only 46 seats in parliament and has little impact on its work.

In terms of the upcoming elections, this means that Prime Minister Chahed and Ennahda are taking the lead in building alliances likely to create a new political dynamic in the country. An analysis in Diwan,published by the Carnegie Endowment, notes that “As the country moves closer to the 2019 elections, Chahed’s maneuvers could have lasting consequences for Tunisia’s future. This is also an interesting trial balloon for a potential Chahed run at the presidency next year. It remains to be seen, however, whether the prime minister will come out of this episode as a strong, independent leader capable of moving the country forward, or as someone pursuing his own political advantage with little regard for the Tunisian public.”

African leaders explored what’s ahead in urban areas of the continent at the 8thsummit of Africities,held every three years, which brought together some 8300 participants representingmore than 77 countries, including 53 African countries, and nearly 3,000 local elected representatives, mayors, and other leaders of local and subnational governments. Under the theme, “The Transition to Sustainable Cities and Territories, The Role of Local and Sub-National Governments of Africa,”participants focused on issues related to the growth of cities, the role of local and regional authorities in urban development, and developing new relationships between urban areas and central governments.

Conscious of the reality that by 2050, Africans will be nearly half of all people under the age of 30, Soham El Wardini, the acting mayor of Dakar, said that “We are determined to work towards the emergence of an Africa reconciled with humanity, drawing on its immense cultural reservoir to rebuild societies respectful of the rights of all, such as the rights of future generations. Local and regional governments want an Africa that turns its back on ecologically irresponsible and socially unjust behavior in favor of an Africa that respects the equilibrium of nature.”

Speaking to the need for new compacts between cities, regions, and central governments, Abdelouafi Laftit, the Moroccan Minister of the Interior, noted that “Decentralized cooperation has become an effective tool for dialogue and communication between elected officials and local actors in order to build a distinguished relationship, exchange experiences and address development issues of interest to the population, including communities who are responsible for providing local services to citizens.”

On a related issue, the World Bank recently issued a studyExpectations and Aspirations, A New Framework for Education in the Middle East and North Africa,“ which was the subject of an article in The National by Ferid Belhaj , World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. In it, he made the case for empowering and enabling youth through significant upgrades and revisions to educational systems throughout the region. He begins with a key observation behind much of the region’s unrest.

Young people the world over invest in their education with the belief that it will lead them to better jobs and greater opportunities. But in the Middle East and North Africa region, education has become a source of widespread frustration because it is not delivering the skills young people need in today’s world. Rather than leading to meaningful jobs and greater well-being, a university degree in the Middle East is now more likely to lead to a dead end of unemployment.”

He goes on to point out that by 2050, the MENA region must “produce 300 million new jobs just to absorb the large youth population entering the labor market. Unless governments act now, invest in quality education, and improve learning, many of these young people will face a life of disappointment, with repercussions not just for the region but for the world.”

Belhaj is particularly concerned with the “waste of precious human resources” illustrated by the situation for young women, “who achieve significantly higher outcomes in learning assessments than young men, and who outnumber them at universities but have twice the unemployment rate of their male peers.”

Governments in the region should see the youth bulge as an opportunity to develop a generation of economic and social leaders with the skills to build, manage, and operate in the world economy rapidly advancing through disruptions caused by technology and globalization. “If governments prioritize learning, education can help drive long-term economic growth, spur innovation, strengthen institutions, and promote social cohesion. Equipping young people with the skills needed to thrive in evolving modern economies will allow their aspirations and drive to become engines of growth.”

The report launched a new tool, the Human Capital Index, which measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18, given the risks of poor health and poor education that prevail in the country where s/he lives. It is designed to highlight how improvements in current health and education outcomes shape the productivity of the next generation of workers.

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